Jonathan, K and I hesitated in a long hall, gazing out a glass wall toward Astraloth, and the space battle that raged beyond. Fighters circled each other, launching volleys of energy bolts to and fro, and the larger skyther ships moved to attack the mothership. We lost our footing for a moment as the ship shuddered from an internal rupture, reminding us to keep moving toward a hangar. We needed to find an escape vessel, and fast. We were lucky that we hadn’t run into many valicorr, but any we did see we didn’t hesitate to shoot. It felt brutal, but it was our only chance for survival.
Another stream of red lightning lashed out from the mothership, ripping a skyther cruiser in half. I shook my head, astonished.
“Even while in a critical state, the mothership is still able to fire!”
K grabbed my arm. “Good thing it won’t last long then. Come on!”
“Wait!” said Jonathan, raising his hand up. “Look!”
A massive beige battlecruiser suddenly blinked into orbit around the planet, from the direction of the Thala nebula. It was half the size of the mothership, but still significantly larger than a Titan-class cruiser, or any of the ships from Astraloth. It was blocky in shape, reminiscent of TAU designs, only it wasn’t a TAU ship. It was larger than any TAU ship I had ever seen. And without warning, a downpour of lasers rained from it to the skyther ships. One by one, the ships split into flames, extinguished in a second by the vacuum of space.
“The Silencer...” Jonathan said.
I turned to face him. “That ship- Duhrnan mentioned it. It’s Ryner’s ship?”
Jonathan nodded gravely as a low rumble coursed through the vessel. Red emergency lights blinked all around us. “Ryner… he’s here!” He pressed his hands up to the glass, gazing into the wide void of stars and starships. His breath condensed against the glass. “I can’t believe it, but… This is our chance… to cut off the head of the snake! To end the Brotherhood, once and for all!” His fingers curled into fists.
K and I exchanged glances. “We need to get off this ship,” she said. “How are we supposed to destroy Ryner’s battlecruiser, anyway? It’s armed to the teeth- look how it’s cutting through those skyther fighters!”
My mind raced. The mothership rumbled once more. “We don’t have much time...” I muttered.
Then the mothership fired another streaking bolt of crimson energy. Instantly, another skyther cruiser lost a chunk of its hull. Even as my heart was wrenched at the sight, I hatched an idea.
I turned to face my companions. “I know how we can destroy the Silencer, Ryner, and the Brotherhood.” I gestured around us. “We use the mothership’s lightning cannon.”
K grinned. “You’re insane, Osax. I love it.”
“Right...” said Jonathan. “What about the escape part?”
“I… I don’t know. K and I will find the controls to the cannon, while you find us a transport.”
Jonathan cleared his throat. “I- Respectfully… No, Osax.” There was a heaviness to his expression. “I should be the one to fire the cannon. That way, you both have the best chance at survival. You both, you run to the hangars and look for a transport. I will meet up with you… after I bring the Brotherhood down.” He lowered his head. “Ryner will get what he deserves.”
“But, what if you don’t make it in time?” K asked, hesitantly.
Jonathan paused, gazing at the floor. “There’s no time to discuss it!” he said at last. “We all knew the risks going into this. I-” He looked up at us. “I’ll be alright. Just make sure you leave before the ship explodes. Whatever happens.”
I nodded slowly. “Alright, Jonathan.” I pointed to the map on K’s holo-gauntlet. “Meet us in this hangar when you’re done. Remember, our communicators won’t function due to the mothership’s overloaded communications system, so make sure you go to the right one!”
Jonathan nodded. “Of course. I’ll meet you in that hangar, if I can.” He stepped up to me, and clasped my shoulders. He smiled. “Osax… words cannot express how much you have inspired me.”
I rested my hands on his shoulders. “And you continue to amaze me with your courage. Please, make it quick. I don’t want to lose another friend.”
His composure broke for a second as he tried not to cry. Then he turned to K. I could tell he wanted to hug her, though he didn’t make a motion for it. “K,” he said. “I’m so sorry for everything that has gone wrong in your life. I feel responsible for it all…”
“You’re not responsible for everything,” said K. “I’m responsible for a fair bit of it. Ryner for some of the worst of it…”
Jonathan sighed. “It might seem strange, K, but in case I never get another chance to say it… you… feel like family, to me. You- in a way, you’re like my sister. Or, my daughter…” K was silent, and he shook his head. “Which would make me a horrible father… I know I don’t deserve it, and it’s not my right to have it, but I only wish we had gotten more time together. More time to know each other better.”
K scoffed, nervously. “Well, we still can… after this.”
He eyed her carefully, and forced a smile. “Right.” He stared at the map on K’s gauntlet, burning it into his mind. The ship boomed from deep within, and we could all feel it rumble. He held up the pistol in his hand, and gave us each one last look. “No time to lose.”
Without another word, he pivoted, and sprinted down the hall toward the control room. I watched his coat trail behind him as he disappeared through a doorway.
K looked to me, and her brow furrowed. “First, I don’t like him. Then he betrays us, and I hate him. I start to kinda like him, and then he goes off…”
“He’ll make it,” I said, eyes narrowing. “He’ll make it.”
Valicorr filled the halls between us and the hangar, but we broke through them. Filled with a righteous rage, K and I were unstoppable as we made our way to the hangar. The klaxons blared obnoxiously as we sprinted down the halls, and in an empty chamber K stopped me, and told me to look outside.
The Silencer was disabled by a single blow from the mothership. Arcing energy of crimson lashed out like a whip, tearing the ship relentlessly to pieces. I gazed in awe at the sight. Ryner, the leader of the Brotherhood, and his flagship, were no more. Explosions consumed the debris of the battlecruiser as the mothership’s weapon continued to strike it into ever smaller pieces. Jonathan had done it.
K and I cheered. The skyther forces which had broken off to attack the Silencer regrouped to battle the valicorr fighters. The ships sparkled in the glow of Astraloth’s sun, like shells on a black beach. A tear dripped down my cheek. I knew the fight against Duhrnan wasn’t over, with him and the Shade Beam still out there, but we had won two major victories in a single battle. The Brotherhood’s leader was gone, and the mothership soon would be too. This was the most luck we’d had so far.
Nearly out of breath, we approached the door to the hangar. I smelled something burning in the air, likely the wiring within the walls as the mothership’s energy slowly surged outward from the generator. There was a tremor, and I caught myself on K’s arm, despite her being shorter than me.
“Whoa! You alright?” she asked.
I let go of her, and steadied myself. “Sorry- I’m fine now. We have to move!”
When we entered the hanger, K and I slid to a halt at the sight of three valicorr who, like us, were rushing into the room, headed for a starship. They were too preoccupied with their own escape to pay us any attention. They each wore black jumpsuits over their bodies, and, curiously, each fidgeted with their own thick bracers that they fastened to their arms as we watched. With a beep, one of the valicorr’s bracers emitted a pulse of light, analyzing the wearer’s body. Liquid seeped out from the bracer, covering the valicorr’s fingers, arms, torso… The liquid morphed into articulated plates, vacuum-sealed clothing, and even a helmet complete with a glass faceplate. Soon enough, their entire body was covered in a purple, protective spacesuit perfectly fitted to their body, with a miniaturized oxygen recycler on the back. The other two valicorr automatically geared up a moment after.
“Whoa,” K and I marvelled. Apparently, loro nanotechnology was even more advanced than I could have thought. At this point though, not much more about the loro could really surprise me.
The three valicorr ran across the metal grating in their nano-suits, straight into a dropship. K and I jogged toward the edge, and gazed down at the hatch meters beneath us. It opened, and my adrenaline spiked looking at Astraloth below. Blue oceans, green and beige landscapes, and white clouds swirled together under me and I felt my head spin. I couldn’t believe Astraloth was here. The hangar was shielded with a containment field, so none of the air was sucked out. But I could almost feel the pull of Astraloth’s gravity, like a vortex reeling me in. Shakily, I backed away from the catwalk, fearing another tremor might send me tumbling down into space. The valicorr disengaged from their docking clamp, and swooped out of the hangar, passing through the containment field into the vacuum of space.
K scanned the room. There were six other shuttles hanging in a ring from the ceiling, each with their own catwalk. She looked at me, concerned. She could see how nauseated I felt.
“Hey,” she said, quietly. “All of this is just hitting you now, huh?”
I nodded silently, with wide eyes. I could feel my heart thumping, and willed it to slow.
She reached out a hand, and gently urged me onward. “Come on, Osax. Let’s hop on a ship, and wait for Jonathan!” She smiled softly.
My chest buzzed with warmth. I nodded slowly, as I took her hand. “O- Okay.” We can do this, I thought.
Careful not to squeeze too hard, K led us toward one of the ships, and our feet clanked on the metal grating.
Then my vision started to flash and spin. I was blasted with heat, and tripped… right off the catwalk.
I felt my insides jerk horrifyingly upwards, and lost the pistol I had been holding. My ears were ringing. I tried to make sense of what was going on as my arms instinctively flailed, seeking anything to grab hold of. My fingers made contact with something leathery, and the tendons in my arms tensed. The weight of my body yanked on my outstretched arms, and I shut my eyes, forcing myself to hold on.
My hearing returned to the sound of the klaxons. Then my eyes began to focus.
My heart pounded. I clutched K’s ankle, who in turn hung off the warped remains of the catwalk. I swung my head from side to side, ears dangling. Our ship fell apart into a fireball of gravity-bound debris before we could get to it. My eyes followed a chunk of the ship; the fireball fell straight toward Astraloth. The flames were choked out after passing the mothership’s containment field.
I glanced up to the ledge, and my blood filled with rage. Durhnan stood on the opposite edge of the room, chuckling. His eyes met mine, and he grinned wildy. He held a fuming energy cannon in his right hands, while his left fiddled with his wrist.
K pulled us up onto the tilting catwalk with ease, helping me to my feet. We stood, and turned to face the Emperor. He watched from the other side of the circular room. The battle of Astraloth raged on beneath us.
“Hey, dickwad!” K mocked, “You missed!”
Duhrnan shook his head. “I wasn’t trying to hit you. I just didn’t want you to get on that ship.”
“Then what the hell do you want?!” I screeched. I wished more than anything that I hadn’t dropped the gun.
He tilted his head to the side, and a nano-suit began to form on his body after flashing a scan. His wide eyes narrowed. “I want you to die in the slipspace fracture. I want you to be responsible for it. I want you to kill yourself.” He smirked viciously.
Duhrnan’s suit finished construction with a sleek helmet over his face. Without a moment’s hesitation, he pressed a button on his wrist, and one by one, the hangar’s clamps disengaged. To my horror, the remaining shuttles fell around us. Duhrnan latched onto the nearest ship before it fell, and I trained my eyes on his descent. As the ships became smaller and smaller, Duhrnan entered his craft. A moment later its engines flared to life, and it peeled away from the battle, out of sight.
I breathed quickly, and my mandibles hung open. The hangar was empty of vehicles, and the ship shook violently. I couldn’t look away from the ships drifting down, away from us. Then my eyes caught even more abandoned ships falling to Astraloth from other parts of the mothership. Duhrnan had emptied the hangars. Every single one.
“Oh shit,” K muttered. She looked to me for ideas. “Osax?” I opened my mouth to speak, but couldn’t find any words.
We ran off the damaged catwalk to the solid ledge. I scanned the room, and my eyes landed on the door from which we had seen the valicorr enter. A thought entered my mind, and a mix of hope and dread washed over me.
“There aren’t any ships left,” I said. “So we’re not going to fly out of here.”
K’s mouth hung open. “Well what are we going to do?!” She gestured toward the wall. “The ship is gonna explode!”
I looked down at Astraloth below, then straight into her eyes. This is a terrible idea, I thought. But it was the only one I had.
“We’re going to jump.”
K stared at me as though I’d lost my mind.
It turned out the nearest supply room was actually a fair distance from the hangar, but we found our way using the map on K’s holo-gauntlet. It was a small room packed with weapons and equipment, and when we entered it was unoccupied. Loro bracers hung on the walls, and we each retrieved a nano-suit. The ship was vibrating constantly now in the glow of emergency lights, and the walls emitted a sharp hum, with a pitch and volume that slowly rose with each passing second. I was anxiously aware of how long it had been since we destroyed the power regulator; the ship could blow any minute. K and I glanced at each other as we fastened the devices to our wrists. Not quite knowing what I was doing, I pressed a button on mine and K’s bracers.
A wave of light burst from each bracer, scanning the shape of our bodies. Then, silver liquid nanites began to crawl up my arm, and I watched as the same thing happened to K.
“Wh- Whoa!” K said, breathing quickly. By the time the liquid coating reached our necks, our arms had already morphed into solid purple material.
“It- It’s okay!” I said, as the mask began to form around my face. K locked eyes with me, and we grabbed each others gloved hands. “These suits should be safe- The loro are the best engineers the galaxy has ever known.” Please be safe, I thought. I shoved any doubts back down my throat.
The nanites reached my ankles, and I lifted each leg one at a time to let them seal around my feet. K did the same. I felt the nano-suit’s boots magnetize with the floor. A glass faceplate covered my eyes, and my ears peeled back against my head. The helmet melded around my ears, sealing me in, and the world became muffled. K’s helmet stretched around her bull-like horns, fully encompassing each one with a metallic substance. I exhaled, astonished. But we didn’t have time to marvel over the loro’s technology.
K’s voice was muffled through her helmet. “Osax… what about Jonathan?”
I hesitated. “K- He’s probably…” I didn’t know how to say it.
She bowed her head. “I know.” She frowned through the mask. “I just…”
The warning lights intensified, and the buzzing in the walls grew louder. Then, the lights popped, and the room dimmed, illuminated only by glowing engravings scattered about the walls and floor.
“We have to go,” I said, trying not to think about Jonathan. “Let’s get to the hull.”
“I- I can’t get at my holo-gauntlet with this damn suit covering it!” said K. “We don’t have a map. Where do we go?”
I hesitated. “I remember your map said that this direction is the closest to the outside of the ship. But, we don’t have time to find a hatch on our own!”
K thought for a moment. Then she cracked her knuckles. “Right. Then let’s make one.”
She charged the wall, and pummelled it with her fists. In a matter of seconds she had punched a sparking hole through it, straight into another room, and moved onto the next one. Before leaving, I snagged an E-pistol from the supply room. Heart racing, I followed her.
Eventually we popped into a dark hallway full of hissing valicorr, and as K bulldozed through to the next wall, I loosed a volley of bullets at them. There were too many to fight; I just needed to hold them off long enough for K to breach the next wall. Plasma blades ignited all around us as they charged, and a stray energy bolt hit me in the arm. K broke through, and as I followed her I glanced at my arm, which didn’t hurt at all. The purple spacesuit was torn, but started to repair itself with silver liquid. The liquid solidified and the colour shifted back to purple. It was as if I had never been shot at all.
K broke a hole through the outer hull. Our boots clung to the metal beneath our feet, and I held onto K, who gripped the wall. We fought against the air which whistled violently out of the ship, sucked by the vacuum of space. K pulled us beside the opening, and we watched as our valicorr pursuers were whisked out through the breach in the wall. This section of the ship was quickly depressurizing.
K asked, “Are we really going to do this?! Can we even survive this?!” Her voice faded as she spoke.
“We won’t survive if we stay here! But we might survive if we jump!”
“I guess you’re right! Well, we…” her voice trailed off into silence as the last of the air escaped around us.
I hadn’t anticipated this… The vibration of our voices could travel through our helmets and the air into our ears. But with no air left between us, there was no way we could hear each other. I couldn’t hear anything outside my suit. The sound of my own breathing was deafening.
I tried to read her lips to no avail. I tapped the side of my helmet, and her lips stopped moving. Our eyes met. She nodded.
We climbed dizzyingly onto the outside hull of the mothership, turning ninety degrees. We stepped slowly. Our boots clung to the surface of the black spider, but my body felt weightless. I let my arms rest. It was like floating in water.
I glanced up, and my head began to spin. We were ringed by millions of stars, and they each looked infinitely far away. On the edges of my vision I saw the red and purple nebulas I was so familiar with. I watched in silent wonder as starships, big and small, clashed above our heads. Explosions and energy beams flared up all around us. When I looked to the side, I saw the debris of the Silencer as it slowly ascended toward the planet. The centrepiece was Astraloth, which loomed overhead. When I stared straight at it, it almost completely filled my vision, providing the stage for most of the battle. The sun illuminated most of the planet from this angle. My eyes traced the line of twilight on the planet. I couldn’t believe my home was really there, or that just an hour ago I was still on Malum. My skin tingled ceaselessly. I could hear the fluids in my body pulsing.
K and I shared one last look.
She reached out to me. I let go of the pistol, which drifted away, took her hands, and took a deep breath. I could hear the low rumble of the mothership through my body as it quivered once more, ready to buckle. We couldn’t waste any more time.
Together, we bent our knees and jumped. K’s legs kicked off with immense force, and propelled us at a startling speed. We held onto each other tightly as we drifted away from the cold loro ship, straight toward Astraloth.