By the time they arrived in the Kentar solar system, the atmosphere on board the ship had subtly changed. The Endeavour had been in deep space long enough for its crew to be fully settled from the personnel changes made when they last docked at the end of a rotation. As a result, the ship was normally a hub of activity and happy chatter as they got on with their work.
Ali made herself useful by helping Marsh apply some of her sensor boosts to the Endeavour's systems after they had discussed some of her more unorthodox tricks. They weren't far out from Kentar when she turned from the panel she'd been working on - to initiate a quick test of her modifications. She caught sight of the way Grey shifted in his chair, with one hand clenching and unclenching into a fist. If it wasn't for the uneasy pit in her own stomach, the old nervous habit would have made her smile. She wasn't sure if the inaudible beat Wood was tapping out with his foot was reassuring or worrying.
Grey stood up once they dropped back into sub-light speeds, just outside of Kentar's solar system. Frost indicated that the Endeavour was reporting no problems once their new vector to the planet was established. He turned to Marsh. "Readings?"
Marsh was already quickly tapping away at his station. He and his staff each had their own instruments and sensors to specifically monitor, but he had to assess the complete picture based on the overviews they forwarded to him. "Nothing unusual from the planet, but I am detecting a large number of ships present."
Grey frowned as he thought. "Kentarians don't usually have a large military presence," he recalled, as his eyes flicked to Ali.
"No, they don't," she confirmed. She was currently leaning over one of the science consoles - after all, she had been his science officer all those years ago - and reading over the shoulder of one of Marsh's staff. "Especially not taurran," she added, recognising the designs.
"Frost, bring us into orbit around Kentar. We are on a normal diplomatic mission and they have no reason to suspect otherwise," Grey said. It was as much a statement of intent as an order to his crew. If they knew his plan they would act accordingly.
The Endeavour hadn't even made it halfway to the kentarian homeworld before Wood reported three taurran ships moving to intercept them and Lartyne reported the lead ship was hailing them. "Patch it through to me," Grey decided as he reclaimed his seat and soon enough a holographic image was projected out of one of the arms. He could have put it onto the view screen but right now he wanted to be able to keep monitoring the whole situation. "This is Rear Admiral Grey of the Endeavour. To whom am I speaking?"
Steam billowed behind the reptilian face that greeted Grey on the screen. Male taurrans had a flatter bone structure along their heads, with smaller and fewer horns, compared to their female counterparts. They also had a bluer tinge to their grey scales. Taurrans had short, broad faces with square, powerful jaws and small dark eyes set slightly more to the side than humans. It didn't show on the small screen but their spines weren't as upright either, their shoulders set slightly further forward than their hips to account for the shallower angle between their head and neck, their tails compensating for balance. "Captain Fashk," he replied, "what business do you have in taurran space?"
"We were unaware this was taurran space," Grey replied and at least he wasn't lying about that. "We're here as a routine run to Kentar-"
"Then you have no business here, please leave or we will be forced to defend our borders," Fashk said.
Grey almost lost his calm façade at the abrupt interruption but years of dealing with unruly crew members had served him well. "Can we at least contact Vaa Kutad to inform him that we will be unable to -"
"No," Fashk interrupted again. "I will not ask again, please leave," he said and closed the channel.
"What would you have done if the ambassador wasn't on Kentar?" Ali teased - Vaa was the kentarian word for ambassador, and translators didn't convert titles by default - though her lighthearted tone only just obscured a dangerous edge.
Grey didn't even glare at her, too busy thinking about his next move, unsure if he was best off calling the taurrans bluff or getting his crew to safety. "Incoming!" Wood shouted, as both he and Frost made some quick commands on their stations and the rest of the crew grabbed hold of something as the inertial dampeners didn't quite compensate for Frost's nimble manoeuvres. "I believe that was a shot across our bow," Wood explained as he checked the readouts, "though it was closer than I'd have called courteous."
"That's one more than they'd usually give," Ali piped up.
"They'd really risk war with USEP?" Lartyne asked.
"USEP isn't a military alliance, it's basically a joint research operation," Wood explained though his eyes never left his data feeds. Ali was right, taurrans weren't renowned for warning shots and he was expecting more. He always expected more, experience had taught him too, and he wouldn't be alive now without that instinct.
Grey was about to explain that whilst USEP wasn't a formal military alliance, it would be unthinkable that they would abandon a member in the event of a military attack.. He could almost hear Ali correcting him that unthinkable was another word for naïvety. Instead, Wood and Frost both reacted instinctively as another shot came at them. "Tactical defence delta!" He ordered, deciding he was not going to let anyone get away with shooting at his ship.
Even though it was no longer her duty - and their discussions so far had suggested that Marsh was a more than capable replacement - Ali couldn't stop herself from looking at the data readouts, skimming over the scans of the taurran ship schematics as she heard angry tapping on the tactical console from Wood. Taurran ships were well armed and reinforced as a general rule - and this particular model of ship appeared no different. They would do well to do any damage without one hell of a plan. Frost was busy as well, evading enemy fire as it became clear that the taurrans were getting the firefight they wanted.
"Hold on!" Frost shouted as she went into a sharp spin to try and evade the latest attack. Despite the warning a couple of people still nearly fell from their seats due to the g-force, and she didn't dodge everything as some of Lartyne's monitors sparked due to the damage causing localised overloading and disruptions. "Sir, can I point out this is a terrible idea?!" Frost asked as she immediately set into another evasive manoeuvre.
"Noted," Grey agreed wryly as he turned from where Lartyne was dealing with the damage to her console. "I want those ships disabled so we can leave the system without pursuit," he added firmly.
"They're too well shielded!" Wood retorted sharply. There was a pause before he realised something. "Frost, reckon you can turn them about if I snowblind them?" He asked. Frost almost smirked as she realised his plan, except that she was too worried about pulling it off. Under her quick hand movements the Endeavour heaved itself in a tight turn to avoid another barrage of weapons fire as Frost tried to plot her next ten moves.
Everyone was busy, shouting warnings and instructions, repairing the damage they were taking despite their best efforts or coordinating their wider response as Frost swerved between the three taurran ships that were chasing them. It served as a reminder of just how much this crew had seen together, that they were able to slip into streamlined efficiency and ignore any anxiety about their situation, because they knew that to get through it they had to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
"Where's the third one?" Frost asked as she completed a drastic turn with a flick of her wrist.
"I've got eyes on it, if you arc port you should stay out of range," Marsh added quickly as Frost confirmed and altered her course, attempting to weave between the ships in such a way that they stopped worrying about where they were in relation to each other.
"Hold," Wood instructed. "Lartyne, on my mark, I want you to issue a burst of static across all frequencies," he added. Lartyne nodded as she primed her instruments, issuing an internal alert that all comms would be offline briefly. As Wood silently counted down it felt as if the entire bridge was holding their breath, anticipation, dread and hope all mingling to create an incredibly tense moment. "Now!"
All at once Frost swerved to avoid the ship she had been diving towards, Wood fired a wide sweep with all available weapons and Lartyne disrupted all communications and a good number of scanners with the frequency burst. It was enough to prevent the taurran ships realising their impending collision and - despite their last minute scramble to avoid each other - their adversaries rammed into each other. "Direct hit," Marsh confirmed with a relieved smile. Frost took a breath before trying to plot a course out of the system. "I'm reading critical damage and a number of engine failures -"
Marsh was cut off by the sound of sparking electronics and rending metal as the ship rocked with the force of another hit. A bulkhead blew out above the bank of science consoles and they all ducked out of the way of the debris that flew at the crew members there. Frost swerved again as she tried to dodge the second attack as Wood took fire. Ali almost lost her footing as she stood up again due to Frost's manoeuvres, putting a hand on the damaged console next to her as she looked for the science team. One - a young crewman - was gingerly getting to his feet, and her eyes landed on Marsh unconscious on the floor. Ali darted towards him with her scanner as the third - an ensign - stirred nearby with a messy abrasion on her head.
"Ali!" Grey shouted, glancing over to the science station long enough to determine who was still conscious. "We need options!"
"Here, press firmly until the medics get here," Ali finished as she encouraged the dazed ensign to try and staunch the bleeding on Marsh's stomach after calling for a medic. She stood to find the crewman already clearing debris away to get some data. She did the same on Marsh's screen as she wiped something away from her forehead, hoping it was sweat or greasy dust. Holding tightly to the console with one hand to keep her balance with the swerving ship and using the other to move over the detailed scans of the taurran ship that was still pursuing them. Eventually her eyes lit on a junction. "There!" She decided, throwing the coordinates over to the tactical station for Wood to see. "All their weapons route through there."
"We'll only get one shot, once they know we've seen it they'll correct their position to keep it far side from us," Wood added.
Grey hit his comms. "Spud." Moments later Spud replied with a terser tone than usual. "Can you give weapons any more power?"
"Get that fire out!" Spud shouted to someone inaudible over the comm line, her attention clearly split between a bunch of different things. "Okay, but I will need to pull power from a number of key systems," she replied. "Oi, watch it!" She added crossly to someone in her vicinity.
"Do it," Grey replied.
"How much of a time window are we talking about, Spud?" Ali asked.
"If it works, you've about a minute," Spud confirmed, "okay, one, two, three… there!"
As Spud had counted down Frost instinctively moved the Endeavour into position. Wood didn't even ask for permission to shoot, he just took the initiative and fired at the hull nearest to the junction they'd found. "Report?" Grey asked.
"Their weapons are offline."
"Frost, get us out of here," Grey said, knowing that this was their best chance of escape before the rest of the ships came after them. Frost didn't need telling twice and soon they were comfortably travelling at light speeds again. "Lartyne, get me command in my ready room," Grey ordered as he stalked towards the small room just off the bridge.
The bridge stayed silent as they all watched until the doors slid gracefully closed behind their captain whilst taking damage reports and helping their injured get medical attention. "What I would pay to watch that argument…" Frost half joked.
"Oh?" Ali piped up far, far too innocently.
"I'm not paying you," Frost retorted firmly, "it's a figure of speech."
Ali shrugged. "In my life, you start to take people literally if it involves pay."
"Don't doubt that," Frost agreed as she turned back to her station.
- NW, UK
I usually go by Cinn, but my backup pseud is Lilitia, I'm a scientist but spend my spare time writing. Mostly because I get prompts in my head and write them down to get them out.
I started out on FanFiction back in 2003, eventually putting some stuff on FictionPress then eventually Inkitt and AO3. Despite over 17 years of posting stories of various quality (I'll admit to some dubious quality in the early years!) I'm still looking for feedback to help me improve.
My Fanfiction moniker is Cinn; https://www.fanfiction.net/u/396269/
My FictionPress moniker is Lilitia; https://www.fictionpress.com/u/419340/
My AO3 moniker is Lilitia; https://archiveofourown.org/users/Lilitia/profile
Credit for avatar image - a doll creator on Rinmarugames