The explosion was little more than a flash grenade, a special effects prop made from emergency flares, fuel, and some spare parts to add an electrical kick. As Captain Calen released her Scuttler’s hold on Tan’s vessel, it provided absolutely nothing to the backwards drift that allowed the two ships to separate, appearing from a distance to resemble a celestial arthropod releasing an unfinished meal. It looked impressive, though.
“As you can see, I’ve almost finished the repairs,” said Tan. “The Morcalan vessel didn’t latch on as firmly as it might’ve. It’s an inefficient attack, one that almost requires the assistance of the other ship to pull off.”
Ensign Trell narrowed her eyes and shook her energy blaster in a manner that fell just shy of threatening. Captain Ortega smiled, getting the sense that Trell was finally growing to the point where she could tolerate Tan’s quirks. Commander Sanchez saw neither of them as she stared from the view screen.
“I see definite improvement,” she said. “The repair team is near enough, though. Do you believe you can truly finish the work on your own? Every ship’s participation is useful for making the initial strike more debilitating to our enemies.”
“I think it’s better to not waste their time,” said Tan. “If we get them back to the ideal position in our formation to do the most good for the rest of the fleet, it’ll help us. We’ve got a tight schedule, after all. I might be late to the party but I’ll definitely be there before the first wave of attack is over.”
Trell blinked. Something seemed off about their prisoner’s comment. She couldn’t say what it was, but the flow of conversation seemed wrong, and it gave her a sense of deja vu, as if she’d heard this conversation before.
“Very well,” said Commander Sanchez. “I expect you to be not just up and running, but combat ready in time for the strike. I’ll be altering your position to be in the final rush of fighters during our first wave instead of the third. That should help to accommodate any unexpected issues you have during your final repairs.”
“Understood, Commander,” said Tan.
The screen flickered off and Tan breathed a sigh of relief.
“Nice work,” said Ortega. “I think we’re just about in the clear to live through this.”
“Right,” said Tan. “What’ll you do now?”
“Hadn’t thought that far ahead,” said Ortega. “Trell, do you think Calen would be amenable to flying the Scuttler by Veskid? I could probably take advantage of their throughwave network to get a message to Astroguard Command. They couldn’t speak back to us easily, but it could let them know more about the nature of the Dyson threat and get them ready to respond.”
“Probably not,” said Trell, watching the pilot carefully. “But it never hurts to ask.”
Captain Calen paced from the Scuttler’s miniature galley back to the bridge. She trusted Ensign Trell to keep the prisoner on task, and to keep Captain Ortega from intervening unnecessarily. She had grown wary when the Dyson Empire’s repair vessel drew near, but it didn’t do more than get close enough to scan Tan’s ship for repairs.
She reached the door that led back onto the bridge, and paused at the sight of an unusual system message flashing at Trell’s station. She started to approach it, but when she stepped through the archway she saw the two black-clad soldiers standing on either side of her, pressed up against the wall to avoid visual contact until it was too late.
Their uniforms were cybernetic stealth suits, topped with observation crowns that both increased their vision and obscured their faces. It gave them the appearance of having six eyes, as three lenses could rotate into position for either eye to give different visual effects depending on what the environment called for. The suits were standard fare, but tweaked with the strange scientific flourishes that Calen was beginning to recognize as the Dyson Empire’s handiwork. The combination of unusual head-gear and cybernetic touches on the body gave the impression of an alien skeleton or shadowy mutant insect’s exoskeletal husk.
They had the undeniable advantage of position, equipment, and surprise, and if their prey had not been Captain Calen the attack would have worked flawlessly. Calen’s wild reaction allowed her to grab the arm of one of the intruders as it lifted a green neural pulse pistol, twisting it to the side to cause the weapon to fire harmlessly into the other side of the room. She continued the arm twist to spin the victim behind her, just in time for the second pistol to fire, striking the intruder and causing an instant loss of consciousness. She tossed the dead weight into her second attacker, but he jumped to the side.
“Spies and saboteurs!” she shouted. “You waste an ambush and must face me alone. Who trained you to throw away advantages like that? By the dread engines of the Farthest Fleet, you’ll suffer at my hand and be sent back to your precious emperor as the secondary payload of a bone missile!”
The intruder didn’t respond but instead fired again. Calen was already moving, easily sidestepping the blast before he pulled the trigger. She grabbed his weapon, pulled it from his hand, and lowered it at the surprised assailant.
“You’ve no training,” she said. “No training, no advantage, and no hope. I’ll give you your last words, because after this insult to the concept of weaponry puts you to sleep I’ll ensure that you never wake again!”
The third assailant, stepped out of the hallway, and fired at Calen. She never saw the attack, and spasmed furiously. She stilled suddenly and for a surreal moment it seemed as if she remained conscious through an act of furious will. She toppled forward an instant later, and the two remaining intruders breathed a sigh of relief.
“Wraithstrike Team Delta reporting full insertion,” said the third intruder as the broadcast channel opened through his suit. “Scatterport-glitch occurred resulting in one casualty, non-lethal. Vessel secured.”
“Copy that, Wraithstrike Delta,” said the voice of Commander Sanchez. “Await further instructions.”