Interception: Part 1

“Enemy ship is coming about.”  Emrah reported.  “System reports it as Combine.”

 

“Point defence turrets standing by.”  Lucy reported.

 

“Missile batteries ready, railgun charging.”  Talaal chimed in.  “Want me to open the weapon hatches?”

 

“Not yet.”  Duren replied, calmly.

 

“We’re going to get shot to shit.”  Li muttered, darkly.

 

“Hopefully not.”  Duren replied. 

 

“Combine ship’s trying to get a weapons lock.”  Emrah announced, coolly.  “I’m attempting to jam their sensors.”

 

“What do we know about those corvettes?”  Duren asked.

 

“Nothing very useful.”  Li answered, quickly.  “No particular weaknesses that I know of, but not especially strong either.  Small crew, variable loadouts, and excellent long-range sensors.  A good recon ship.”

 

Duren grunted, and was silent for a moment, thinking.

 

“Can you get a read on their weapons?”  He asked.

 

“Looks like missiles and Point defence turrets only.  No guns.”

 

“Talaal, be ready to open the missile hatches the moment I say, keep the railgun covered.”  Duren ordered.

 

“Will do.  Railgun is now at eighty percent and rising.”

 

“Enemy has target lock.”  Emrah broke in.  “I’m reading missile launches.”

 

“On it.”  Lucy and Ger reported together.

 

“Launching counter measures.”  Duren said to Li.

 

“We can return fire anytime now.”  Li replied, grimly.

 

“Not yet.  I want them closer.”

 

“If they get any closer, we’ll be sitting on their lap.”

 

“Three missiles have gone after the counter measures, seven still closing.”  Emrah reported.

 

“Talaal, standby to fire a full spread.  Emrah, get me a target lock.”

 

“A full spread?”  Talaal asked, surprised.  “Boss, the reload time.”

 

“I’m aware.  Ready a full spread.”

 

“Uh, sure.  Full spread it is.”

 

“I have a target lock.”  Emrah reported.

 

“Missiles in point defence range.”  Ger reported.  “We’re live.”

 

“Talaal, pop the missile hatches and fire.”  Duren ordered.

 

“Firing a full spread.”  Talaal replied.

 

The Tarnished Rose shuddered suddenly.

 

“All enemy missiles down.”  Lucy reported, tersely.

 

“Enemy corvette is still closing.”  Emrah announced.  “I’m reading another missile launch.  Uh, they’re not playing this time, I’m seeing twenty plus missiles incoming.”

 

Li glanced at Duren.  “We can’t.”

 

Duren nodded grimly.  “You’re probably right.  Do your best.”

 

“Don’t I always?”

 

Duren smiled.

 

“Our missiles should be entering point defence range.”  Emrah reported.

 

“Talaal, pop the hatch over the gun and fire, centre mass.”

 

“Roger, boss.  Firing.”

 

“With a little luck, their sensors will be blinded momentarily by our missiles exploding.”  Duren muttered.

 

“Launching counter measures.”  Li announced, calmly.

 

Duren glanced over.

 

“Lots of missiles entering range.”  Lucy gasped.  “Firing.”

 

“Glancing hit on enemy corvette.”  Talaal reported gravely.  “Sorry boss.  Gun is recharging.  Missile batteries will be ready in a few seconds.”

 

“Standby to fire another full salvo.”

 

The ship shuddered once, twice, then Duren felt the ship lurch violently to one side.  The lights flickered and went out.  Emergency lights came to life straight away.

 

“We’re hit.”  Li growled. 

 

“Through and through.”  Duren replied.  “Detonated after exiting.  Main power coming back online.”

 

The ship shuddered again.

 

“Talaal, fire another salvo.”

 

“Yes boss.  Firing.”

 

“They’re running!”  Emrah shouted.  “Target is turning about and increasing thrust.”

 

“Are they heading for the freighter?”  Duren asked.

 

“Negative.  They’re making for the jump point.”

 

The Tarnished Rose shuddered again as Ger and Lucy worked hard to destroy the remaining enemy missiles, but there were simply too many.  They worked feverishly but the final two missiles slipped through and struck the hull, detonating on impact.

 

“I’ve lost a thruster.”  Li shouted, as the ship screamed in distress.

 

“Keep us on course and follow that ship!”  Duren shouted back.

 

Alarms began wailing, adding to the chaos.

 

“Talaal, fire another slug up their ass.  I don’t want them turning around.”

 

“Firing!”  Talaal coughed.

 

“Medical alert from Talaal.”  Lars interrupted.

 

“Gods damn.”  Duren snarled.  “Talaal, report!”

 

“It’s nothing boss.”

 

“Enemy ship has jumped.”  Emrah reported.  “Scope is clear.  I’m seeing to Talaal.”

 

“I’m on my way up.”  Lars announced.

 

“Throttling down.”  Li breathed.

 

Duren sighed.  “Damage report, all sections.”

 

“We’re good here.”  Ger replied.  “All clear.”

 

Another alarm sounded, and the ship jolted hard.

 

“What the fuck was that?”  Li shouted.

 

“System reports it ejected the primary link capacitor.”  Duren replied.   “Theo, damage report.”

Duren waited for a moment but got no response.

“Theo, damn it, respond.”

 

“I’m getting a fire alarm from engineering.”  Li reported, her face pale.

 

 “I’m going down there, get us back to that freighter, gently.”

 

Duren undid his harness and pushed out of his seat. He grabbed an overhead handrail to change direction and glided to the hatch.

 

*

 

Theo hated combat.  He always had.  It seemed every time he had a ship running just how he liked, it got shot up and he had to start over.  He had spent the past few minutes being thrown around in his seat like a rag doll, while continuing to monitor the ship’s systems.  Buried as he was near the centre of the ship, he had felt safe enough.  Certainly, he felt safer that the rest of the crew, despite sitting within spitting distance of a reactor. 

 

He had listened to Duren calling orders and requesting updates as the events unfolded, tagging stress warnings from the ship for later review.  The Rose, tarnished or not, was a solid hunk of metal.  Solid and durable, but she had limits.

 

“Gods damn it!”  Theo growled as he was shaken in his seat.  “Stop trying to break my ship!”

 

His system reported an overheating fault on the port missile battery reloading mechanism.  A quick scan and he dismissed it.  The reloader wasn’t designed to replace a full battery that fast, but he’d modified it at Duren’s request.  The fault was expected and wouldn’t cause any damage.  He felt a slight shiver through the hull and knew that Talaal had fired the railgun.  Power usage was already going up as the gun demanded power to recharge.  He entered a few brief commands and diverted a little extra power to try and speed up the process.  No serious damage yet, so far so good.

 

His world suddenly spun for a moment and the lights went out.

 

“I should have known better.”  He groaned. 

 

He straightened up in his chair and his eyes widened as his screen started filling with warnings, filling the compartment with red lights.  The emergency lights came on and he glanced over his screen in the direction of the reactor.

 

“Don’t even think about it.”  He muttered as he worked to restore power.

 

A relay on deck eight didn’t exist anymore.  He bypassed it, reset a few other relays, and main power was back online.  He didn’t take much notice.  There were two hull breaches on deck eight, small ones, thank the Gods, and more warnings and alarms than he’d seen in several years.

 

The ship shuddered around him again.  Another overheating fault from the port missile battery reloader popped up amongst all the other warnings.  He dismissed it. 

 

The ship groaned and shook around him, but Theo kept his eyes on his screen.  Overheat alarm on starboard dorsal point defence turret.  Dismiss. Overheat alarm on starboard ventral point defence turret.  Dismiss.

 

Theo started to worry.  He knew the Rose like she was his own child.  He’d upgraded her systems.  Patched her when she needed it.  His own blood and sweat were baked into her every deck.  He knew what she could do, and Duren was pushing her.  Too hard.  She wasn’t designed for this.

 

The ship around him suddenly screamed out and everything went dark.

 

*

 

Duren braced himself against the ladder as he felt the Rose’s main engine fire. He let go the ladder as partial gravity returned and rushed along the corridor, fetching up outside the hatch to the engineering control room.  He opened the door, stepping to one side so that if there were a serious fire inside, he wouldn’t get caught in any conflagration.  Wisps of smoke drifted out of the now open hatch.  Taking a deep breath, he rushed into the control room, looking around for Theo.  He found the older man leaning against a wall, coughing, an expended fire extinguisher in his hand and several burns on his arms.

 

“It’s out.”  He coughed.  “Nothing too serious, just an overloaded circuit and some old insulation.”

 

“We were worried when you didn’t respond.”

 

“I was a bit busy.  Pirates?”

 

Duren shook his head.  “A Combine corvette.”

 

The engineer coughed and dropped the extinguisher.  “Well.  I better get back to work putting the ship back together.”

 

“What happened with the primary link capacitor?”

 

“Power-surge jumped the breakers and fucked the capacitor up right fine.  We were lucky the reactor didn’t go safe.”

 

“Any other damage to the Link drive?”

 

Theo scratched his head and grimaced.  “I don’t think so.  I’ll have to run a few diagnostics before I swap in the spare capacitor.  If I’m any judge of ships, we’re going to have to put in somewhere if we want to make proper repairs.  My screens are lit up with warnings and we have a few hull breaches that we’re going to need to close up.”

 

Duren sighed.  “Let’s get a list generated first.  I’ll send Emrah and Talaal down to help you as soon as they’ve secured their systems and I’ll be down as well.”

 

“Appreciate it, Captain.  It’s a mess and there’s plenty work to go around.”

 

“Send me a list.  Highlight anything that needs replacing that we don’t have spares for.”

 

Theo’s eyes lit up.  “Oh?”

 

Duren smiled.  “We’ve just been in combat.  Who’s to say what’s battle damage and what’s not.  Command can eat the cost and the Rose will be better for it.”

 

“I’ll get started on that list right away.”

 

*

 

“How’s it looking down there?”  Li asked as Duren propelled himself back into the cockpit.

 

“It’s a mess, but Theo’s on top of it.”

 

“He won’t be happy about that.”

 

“I bribed him.”  Duren said, with a smile.

 

“With what?”

 

“Told him that he could requisition new parts and claim them as battle replacements.”

 

Li laughed.  “Oh that’ll cheer him up no end.”

 

The hatch to the forward compartment opened and Lars glided into the cockpit.

 

“How’s Talaal?”  Duren asked.

 

“He’s fine.  A bracket shook loose and hit him in the chest.  It damaged one of his medical sensors and made it look worse on screen than it was.”  Lars replied.

 

“That’s a relief.  If you have a few minutes, you might bully Theo into letting you do something about his arms.  He had a small fire down there and has a few burns.”

 

Lars shook his head.  “I’m on it.”

 

“And when you’re done there, pack a kit.  I’m sending you with Ger and Lucy to board that freighter.  She looks like she’s barely holding together, there’s bound to be casualties.”  Duren added.

 

“If there’s anyone left alive.”  Li interrupted.  “Emrah’s been trying to raise them on the radio.  So far, no response.”

 

Duren grunted.  “What will be, will be.”

 

Lars left the cockpit, on his way to subdue and treat Theo.

 

“I’m going to have Emrah, and Talaal if he’s up to it, go down to Theo and help him start the repairs.  I’ll go with them.  Will you be okay monitoring sensors and radio?”  Duren asked

 

“As if I don’t have enough to do.”

 

“You’re a big girl.  You’ll manage.”

 

“Aye, aye, captain.”  Li replied, snapping off a mocking salute.

 

“Ger, Lucy, secure your stations.  You’re going over to the freighter as soon as we dock.”  Duren ordered over the comms.  “Official gear, I don’t want to take any chances.”

 

“About time!”  Lucy muttered in a barely audible reply.

 

*

 

Ger and Lucy dived down the ladder to deck three, where their small quarters were located.  The crew cabins were usually only used when the ship wasn’t in transit, so they were sparsely furnished, little more than a bed and a shower closet.  Because of the nature of their mission, each cabin also had a hidden closet, where the crew could store their official gear.  It was all well and good dressing as budget conscious smugglers, but for boarding ships, Lucy liked to have a little armour between her skin and the Void.  She punched Ger in the shoulder as he passed and slid open the door to her cabin. 

 

She propelled herself inside and twisted in the air, arresting her momentum on the opposite wall with her feet.  She pulled off her scuffed and dirty boots with practiced ease and tossed them towards her open clothes press.  She slipped out of her overalls, leaving them to float where they were.  The barest touch of her toe on the ceiling and she glided over to her concealed closet.  She activated the hidden catch and it slid open. 

 

Ger stepped out of his cabin as she slid her door shut.  She looked him up and down and glanced at the heavy knife on his breast plate and long knife on his left thigh armour.

 

“Compensating?”  She asked, pointing at the new long knife.

 

“Hardly.”  He smirked. 

 

Lucy felt a slight vibration on her left wrist and glanced at the small screen mounted there.

 

“Dorsal airlock.  Come on.”

 

They breezed back up to Deck one and passed the mess compartment.  Duren was there waiting for them.

 

“Lars is on his way up.  He’s going to hold right by the airlock.  Don’t take any risks, just get in quick, search and get out.”  Duren ordered, firmly.

 

He handed Lucy a small device.

 

“A present from Emrah.  Get to the bridge and plug it into any station, it’ll download the ship’s logs.”

 

Lucy nodded.

 

“If you find anyone alive, get them out.  Li will be monitoring the sensors.  If she tells you to get out, don’t hesitate.  Clear?”

 

“Got it.”  Ger confirmed.  “Get in, download the logs, pull out any survivors if we find any, get out.”

 

“One minute to contact.”  Li called over the comms.

 

Lars glided over from the ladder, kitted out in his heavy armour, carrying a large sidearm and medical supplies.

 

“Be careful in there.  Li will be on the comms, if she orders you out, don’t hesitate.”  Duren concluded.

 

“We’ll be fine.”  Lars said, confidently.  “I’ll hold the door.”

 

Duren nodded and glided away, deeper into the ship, sealing the compartment behind him.

 

There was a clunk of metal striking metal, that echoed through the hull.  Ger, Lucy and Lars waited as the two ships came together.  Air hissed and machinery whined.  Ger glanced up at the airlock control panel.  The red status light blinked a few times and was replaced by a green light.

 

“Good seal.”  He observed.  “I’ll take the lead.”

 

Ger propelled himself upward to the hatch and opened it.  Confronted by the freighter’s airlock, he flipped open a panel and found a keypad beneath.  He entered a number sequence and the keypad turned green.  A moment later the hatch ground open, jamming about halfway.  Ger pulled his sidearm and flicked off the safety.  He slipped through the opening and entered the ship.

 

Once inside the ship, Ger found himself in a small compartment separated from the rest of the ship by another hatch in front of him.  Almost identical to the one he’d left on the Rose.  He touched the ceiling and gently pushed himself towards the deck.  He activated his magnetic boots as he touched down, securing himself in place.  It would be easier and faster to glide through the ship, but hardly safer.  Lucy stepped into the airlock, signalling Lars to wait while Ger made sure the area beyond was safe to move into.  Ger glanced at his forearm mounted display.  There was no indication of fire on the other side, so he activated the inner hatch controls and the door slid open, giving them access to the ship proper. 

 

*

 

Lucy tapped her display. 

 

“Another deck down.”  She said, over their comms.

 

“We should have seen someone by now.”  Ger replied.  “They have to know that there’s a ship docked to theirs.”

 

“Dead, injured, or hiding.”  Lucy advised.  “Pick one.”

 

“Waiting in ambush.”  Ger muttered.

 

“File under hiding.”

 

“Yeah, yeah.” 

 

“Keep it down.”  Lars advised, gruffly.  “Keep your heads in the game.  I don’t want to have to come get you again Lucy.”

 

“That was one time, Lars, one time.”

 

“Try not to make it two.”

 

“Shh!”  Ger hushed them.  “Ladder.”

 

“Your turn.”  Lucy stated.

 

Ger nodded, as he put away his sidearm and switched off the magnets in his boots.  He flipped himself around, so that it seemed as if he were doing a handstand.  Lucy grabbed his legs as he began slowly drifting downwards.

 

“You got me?”  Ger asked.

 

“I got you.”  Lucy replied.

 

Ger glided down until he was able to see the deck below.  It was, like the deck above, devoid of life.

 

“Clear.”  He advised and flipped around again, activating his boots as he did. 

 

Lucy dropped down behind him.

 

They made their way carefully through the ship towards the bridge, until they came to a sealed hatch.

 

“Vacuum on the other side.”  Ger cautioned.  “Can we go around?”

 

Lucy consulted her display.

 

“Not unless you fancy going back up two decks and working our way through a few tight conduits that may or may not be damaged.”

 

“Alright, we’ll breach here then.”

 

“Lars, seal us off from the Rose.”  Lucy ordered.  “We’re breaching a door.”

 

“Done.  You’re good to go.”  Lars replied after a moment.

 

Ger examined the panel beside the hatch then entered a string of commands.  His finger hovered over the enter key as he braced himself, before stabbing the button sharply.

 

A muted alarm sounded from the door and it began to open.  Air rushed from the compartment, pulling anything not secured down, or too heavy with it.  After a few seconds, the rush of escaping air slowed and then stopped, other hatches behind them closed.

 

“You both okay?”  Li called over the comms.

 

Lucy glanced at Ger, who nodded. 

 

“We’re fine.”  She replied.  “We’re now in vacuum.  Proceeding towards the bridge.”

 

The corridor ahead of them was a dark mess of warped metal and shattered piping.  Wiring sparked now and then, creating moments of stark light.  Ger and Lucy’s helmets compensated for the darkness and the flashes, allowing them to see unimpeded as they skilfully navigated the wreck.  They passed a gaping wound in the hull of the ship and were able to peer out into open space.

 

“We should have just ignored the airlock and come in there.”  Ger observed.  “It would have been quicker.”

 

Lucy nodded, then stopped.  “Junction ahead.  Turn right and the bridge hatch should be just there.”

 

“Finally.”  Ger breathed, as he picked his way towards the junction.

 

He turned the corner and stepped through a damaged hatch and found the bridge access.  He checked the panel beside the door then stopped.

 

“The bridge is still pressurised.”  He observed.  “We can’t just override the controls and open the hatch.”

 

Lucy walked back to the damaged hatch and examined it.                                              

 

“We might be able to force this closed.”  She observed, thoughtfully.  “The seals look intact, just the servos that are fried.”

 

Ger was still examining the control panel beside the door.

 

“We might have someone alive in there.  I’m not sure.  Lars?”

 

“I heard you.  I’m on my way, hold tough.”

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