Monday, March 24, 2014
February 1, part 1
Let’s see, I left off locked in my room, waiting for someone to come get me out so I could jump on the escape shuttle. At last someone did show up ... Betra.
He dashed into the room, took a quick glance at me, and ordered the door to lock. “We’re in big trouble, Shalia. How is your head?” he asked.
“It hurts,” I said, hurrying into his arms. The look on his face scared me. “What’s happening? Aren’t we going to the shuttle?”
“It’s already gone.”
I gasped. “It left us?”
“They had no choice. We had to get as many of the women off the ship as possible because we’ve been boarded. The shuttle bays were the first place those bastards went. When you didn’t show up, the shuttle was forced to take off without you.”
“Boarded? By who?” I yelled. Visions of angry Earther men, bent on punishment, danced in my head.
“Sit down and I’ll explain from the beginning,” Betra told me. He pushed me towards the couch, sat down, and pulled me into his lap where he held me like a child.
He checked my eyes. “First of all, do you have any blurred vision? Nausea?”
“No,” I answered. “Just a pounding headache. Betra, I’m fine. Tell me what’s happening. Who attacked us? Why couldn’t I get out?”
“I locked you in when I found you here. The shuttle had already gone, and I wanted to keep you as safe as I could while I found out what was happening.” Betra drew a deep breath. He was in control, but there was definite fear on his face. “Just wait with the questions and let me start from the beginning.”
“Okay.” I huddled in his lap. I would have felt safe but for the terror I saw in the Imdiko’s eyes.
“We came out from the portal five minutes after the destroyers went through. They, along with the two destroyers waiting to join up with us on this other side, were supposed to signal us to not finish the jump if there was trouble. We didn’t receive any such signal, so we came on.”
I swallowed. Earther warships had com frequency blocking technology. “Battlecruisers?” I whispered.
Betra nodded. “Three of them, along with other vessels of various origins.”
I could have screamed. Four Kalquorian destroyers and a transport could be overcome by three of my race’s battlecruisers. “Other ships too? Some of the other races have banded with what’s left of the Earth fleet?”
“No, all the ships are under the control of Tragooms. They must have captured the battlecruisers at some point during or after the war.”
So no Earthers were coming with their judgments. I wouldn’t have to fight against my own kind, and that made me feel a bit of relief. Then again, Tragooms are vicious creatures. If there is a God, I really have to doubt his benevolence in making that nasty race.
“Are you saying the Tragooms won the fight? They’re on the ship now?” I asked as stark realization made its unwelcome appearance.
Betra’s mood darkened. “They haven’t won by a long shot. The ships they’re using are undermanned, so even the battlecruisers aren’t giving us as much trouble as they should. They managed to take out one of the destroyers waiting for us by ambushing it. The three we have left are giving them hell, along with our fighter squads.”
“But we’ve still been boarded.”
“Yes, a few raider teams managed to dock with the transport, but our security forces are fighting them deck by deck.”
“You said the escape shuttles are gone already. Holy shit, you came back for me even though you knew you’d be stuck on the ship with Tragooms on the loose.” I stared at him in amazement.
He stared back, looking a little put out with me. “Of course I came back for you. Why wouldn’t I?”
Because I’m not worth your life was on the tip of my tongue. I know we’d been getting cozy lately, but I never would have thought Betra would risk himself for me. For a moment, I was overwhelmed that he put that much importance on my welfare.
Then I had another thought that distracted me from my liaison’s self-sacrificing nature. It was one that hadn’t occurred to me before, one that turned me cold all over. “Betra, what about my mother? Would the Tragooms do anything to the people in medical stasis?”
His arms tightened around me. “We have protocols for people like your mother, Shalia. One of the medics was assigned to her when she was brought on board. As soon as the evacuation order went through, his first task was to put her and any others assigned to him on his escape shuttle. You have nothing to worry about as far as she’s concerned.”
Well, at least that was one thing off my list of things to freak out over. “So now what about us?”
Betra grew even more serious, if that was possible. I braced myself, but I still wasn’t ready for what he said next.
“At least one of the raiding parties of Tragooms has made it to this section of the ship. There is a group close to your quarters right now.”
I went very still in Betra’s arms. I thought of my blaster, but it had no live ammunition. Training had come too late for me to protect myself from the awful creatures.
The Imdiko hugged me close. “I commed Oses and let him know you were still on board, injured, and in trouble. He’s got a team on their way right now. They’ll keep you safe. He said for us to stay in here with the door locked until he kills those raiders.”
I tried for a weak joke. “All that for little old me? My heroes.”
Betra pressed his lips to my forehead. “Even one lost Matara is too many. Especially when it’s you.”
I was about to say something else, probably something stupid, when booming thuds sounded against my door. I gasped. Betra covered my mouth with his hand, his eyes wide.
“Hush,” he whispered right in my ear as another round of blows landed to thunder loudly in my quarters. “The boarders must be moving from room to room, searching for things to steal and people to kill. Move quickly and quietly to your sleeping room, and we’ll lock ourselves in there.”
He stood, setting me on my feet. Betra pushed me towards my bedroom, drawing a blaster from the holster I hadn’t noticed him wearing until this moment. Keeping his eyes on the locked door, he backed to the bedroom after me. Once inside, he ordered that door closed and locked too.
We could still hear those fierce booms against the sitting room’s door from our hiding place. Betra gave me a glance, and I trembled to see how pale he’d gone. Still pointing the blaster towards the bedroom door, he pulled his com from his belt and spoke quietly into it.
“Betra to Oses. I believe we have boarders trying to break into Shalia’s quarters.”
There was no answer for a few seconds, making me wonder if something had happened to the Nobek weapons commander. Knowing Oses, he’d have put himself in the thick of fighting and in the middle of the worst kind of danger. He might be dead. My stomach was like a lead weight.
Then his growly voice came through, yelling and a little breathless. There was a lot of noise in the background; what sounded like howling dogs and screeching, along with blasters going off. “Copy that. We’re fighting our way through to you. Stay locked in. I’ll be there as fast as I can, Imdiko.”
It sounded to me we were on our own. Who knew how long? It could be Oses and his men wouldn’t reach us in time.
I eyed the knife sheathed in Betra’s belt. “Can I hold that?” I asked.
He handed it to me handle first without taking his eyes off the door. The sounds of someone trying to get in continued unabated. “Yes, but only use it to defend yourself. Do not fight on my behalf, Shalia.”
I thought to myself, We’ll see about that, but said nothing. I didn’t want him to take the knife back.
Betra continued. “A Tragoom’s weak spots are his eyes, groin, and just below the breastbone. Stabbing it anywhere else has no effect.”
Good to know.
The pounding on my outer door suddenly stopped. A long silence wound out, somehow more frightening than the noises that had been going on before.
Then there was the distant sound of percussion blasters going off. They grew louder in the next few seconds.
“Oses’ team got here,” Betra breathed, relaxing just a bit.
After a few moments of what sounded like a war outside my rooms, the sounds faded. Seconds later, Betra’s com went off, confirming that we’d been rescued. “Oses to Betra. Are you and Shalia all right?”
Betra beamed at the device, as if it would transmit his smile to the Nobek. “We’re here, Weapons Commander.”
“Good. We’ve chased this bunch away from Shalia’s quarters and are in pursuit to finish them off. Reports say this is the last group of the boarders, and other security teams are converging on them. There may be individual stragglers still loose on the ship though. Stay locked up tight until I give you the signal it’s clear.”
“Understood. Thank you, Oses.”
Betra blew out a breath and smiled at me. “That was a bit close.”
“Too damned close,” I agreed.
I handed him his knife back, and he holstered both weapons. We held each other for a few minutes, just quietly enjoying being alive. Then we went back into my sitting room to wait for Oses’ signal.
“It won’t be so bad after this jump,” Betra said. “By the time we hit the next portal, more patrols will be in place.”
“That’s good,” I said. “I think Kalquor should have waited until all the portals and our route were better guarded.”
“I agree, but it’s such a mad scramble to get your people off Earth that expediency is the rule. They may rethink that after this.”
My door buzzed. We both looked up. “It’s probably Oses,” Betra said. He raised his voice. “Who’s there?”
We didn’t get an answer. Instead, the door buzzed again. Betra shot to his feet, yanking his blaster free once more. “Into the sleeping room, Shalia! Someone’s got a frequency disruptor and they’re trying to break in!”
No soon had he shouted the warning when the door slid open. Two big rhino-pig looking Tragooms invaded the room. Betra started shooting in a deafening volley.
The pair had some sort of force field thing in front of them because the brunt of the shots were deflected. A little of the percussive blast got through, because I saw the Tragooms stagger backwards a little. They squealed in reaction, but then they came in again. They had their own blasters, and they brought them up to sight on Betra.
I screamed, distracting them for a couple of precious seconds. They didn’t fire on Betra, apparently startled to see me standing there. That gave my liaison the chance to fire a few more shots, staggering them again.
Before they could recover, Betra shoved me back into the bedroom. He screamed for the door to lock as soon as we were in, but we knew it was only postponing the inevitable. The bastards had us.
“Get my knife. Com Oses too,” Betra said. He stood in front of the door with the blaster pointed and ready. “I’ll hold them off you as long as possible. Stay as low as you can.”
I scrabbled at his belt for the two items, getting the knife ready and keying the com as I threw myself to the floor. “Oses, they’re in my quarters! We’re trapped with—”
My door buzzed and opened. Betra began firing a barrage at the two monsters, keeping his body between me and them. They fired back, but they were thrown off by the constant bombardment from the liaison’s weapon. It was probably the only reason they didn’t hit him first thing, though they should have. The space we were in was cramped, leaving little room for them to miss.
But miss they did. Pieces of my bed blew apart. The wall where my closet was also disintegrated, and paneling and fabric flew everywhere. The illumination of that wall failed, dimming the already half-dark room further.
All I could do was lie on the floor and scream like a banshee, waiting to see those hideous things kill my friend. One shot did connect with Betra’s chest. He staggered backward from the force of it, damned near tripping over my useless self. However Betra kept right on firing, howling like a wolf as he did so.
Then four black blurs swept in from behind the Tragooms, howling and snarling themselves as they took the brutes down. It was Oses and three of his men. They fired into the Tragooms’ skulls at point blank range. The force fields the bastards had around them were no match for that. Their heads blew apart, sending a mist of black blood and gray flesh confetti into the air.
I wasted no time grabbing Betra and checking him for injuries. “Holy shit,” I said to him as I looked at the shredded hole in his formsuit’s chest, right over the heart. “I thought you were dead when they hit you. That armor is good stuff.”
He winced as he inspected the damage. “It hurts like someone launched a boulder into my chest, but I think I’m okay.”
Oses stepped forward and checked Betra over as well, though he kept his hands to himself. “Imdiko, you should get to Medical and have that checked out. The armor looks like it held, but you’ll want to be sure nothing is broken or internal injuries sustained.”
“I think I’m okay. I definitely don’t want to run into any more stray Tragooms or leave Shalia until you’ve gotten them all.”
“All right, if you’re sure. I need you to stay locked in here for a little while longer, anyway. We’re still sweeping for stragglers like these two.”
Betra smiled at the weapons commander. “Thanks for getting here so fast. We wouldn’t have lasted long without you coming right away.”
Oses nodded, seeming pleased. “I am glad to have been a service to you both.”
Something passed between the two men, something sweet and damaged and sad all at once. It was a sense of what might have been.
Uncomfortable, I looked at the big, stinky bodies lying in my bedroom. “Betra, I want new quarters, pronto. There is no way this smell is ever coming out. For heaven’s sake, did those things shit themselves?”
The spell broke, and Oses grinned at me. I noticed his fangs were down. “Tragooms always do when they die. It’s the smell of victory.”
I gagged, which only made him laugh.
As he started to follow his team out of my rooms, Betra asked, “Is there any word on the battle with the ships?”
Oses’ shark-like grin got bigger. “We’ve still got three destroyers. Only a couple of the battlecruisers continue to fight. All the rest of the attackers have run away. We’ve had a glorious time of it.”
He and his team left me and Betra to lock ourselves in with the headless enemies ... enemies with pants full of poop. Smells like victory, huh? Yeah, it was pretty glorious, all right. Crazy Kalquorians.
We quit the bedroom, closing the door to keep most of the stench out of the sitting room.