|Back to Index||Written May, 1998|
The commander's boots sent resounding metallic tones across the cabin every time they hit the deck plates. Behind him, one of the crewmen coughed nervously and in the silence of the room it seemed to echo around. One of the other men approached the commander.
"Commander Odel?" He asked, saluting
The man known as Odel and who held the post of commander of an Earth warship nodded briefly in acknowledgement and absent mindedly returned the salute. "Koren."
"Shift computed, sir." Replied the man smartly.
Odel nodded once again and waved for the man to resume his station. He walked, followed by the metallic clang of his boots, over to one of the desk consoles which adorned the sides of the room.
He touched the operator briefly on the shoulder. "The seventh?" He asked.
"Nothing yet, sir."
Odel nodded once again and returned to his pacing. One of the primary jobs of command is to appear commanding. If you fill your men with confidence in your ability then you are half way towards a battle won. He didn't feel confident, nevertheless he tried to project that impression.
"Sir!" It was the communications officer - Keffler, if he remembered correctly.
"Message from the seventh, sir. It appears that the friends have arrived and they are ready to begin the party."
Odel let the smallest smile crease his face. This was the final stage. An Earth squadron - the seventh was now under attack from an alien force which clearly regarded it as being outmatched. That was about to change. Twenty extra warships would shift to a position precisely calculated a few days earlier and engage the enemies rear. It would be the perfect trap.
Odel strolled to the command centre's central chair and sat down. He motioned with his hand for Koren to make the necessary preparations.
As his second in command, Koren was responsible for the day to day running of the ship - and this. He touched the intercom switch. "Observation? Status?."
The voice which echoed around the command centre had a tinny quality. "Ready to shift."
"Ready to shift."
"Engine room? Status?"
"Ready to shift."
Koren released the switch and pressed another. "All hands, prepare to shift. Battle stations alert level 1." Koren released the switch and smartly marched over to where Odel was sitting, gazing at the moving hands on his watch.
"Ready to shift, sir." He announced smartly, with a salute. Odel nodded and returned the salute from his sitting position. He waited for a few seconds and then, seeing what he wished to see in the hands on his watch, looked up.
"Shift then." He commanded.
"SHIFT!" Shouted Koren. Part of the main viewing screen at the front of the command centre became a bar, filling quickly with red. That represented the energy buildup necessary to shift the ship through hyperspace to the battle co-ordinates. Odel had been through hundreds of shifts and except under the most strange of circumstances they had all been completely undetectable to the crew besides the change in the starfield. He watched the bar climb higher and higher. They would shift any second.
"Five seconds to shift!" Came the call. A humming sound was building up all around them. "Four! Three! Two! One! Shifting!"
To Odel it felt as though the deck had been knocked out from under him. He was thrown out of his chair and from what little glimpses of the room he could see the others men and women on the bridge were experiencing the same problem. Then there was silence.
For a few seconds Odel lay on the floor of the bridge, oblivious to the outside world. Then he remembered where he was.
He forcibly opened his eyes and dimly became aware of what had been the orderly bridge of a warship. There was a small fire in one corner of the room, filling the atmosphere with smoke. On the ceiling he could see that several coolant conduits had breeched and were now adding their deadly mix of chemicals to the air. At the front of the command centre the viewscreen was black. The sound of groans and coughs permeated the room.
Were we attacked? Have the aliens developed a way of attacking ships during the shift? He struggled to his feet and reached up to manually seal the coolant conduits. "REPORT!" He screamed into the maelstorm.
One of the conduits was now sealed and he moved onto the next. A battered and bleading Koren stepped up to him and shouted an answer. "We've lost the shift calcuation computer system. There are multiple conduit ruptures. Manouvering thrusters and main ion engines are off-line but the jump system is still operational. Main sensor array is damaged but operational and the external communications system is shot to hell. We still have intercom, though. The infirmery reports large numbers of burns and other minor injuries. Several crew members have radiation burns. Currently there are 14 dead, 45 badly wounded."
"Weapons?" Asked Odel.
"Torpedoes only, sir."
"Sir! Sir!" One of the bridge crewmen had regained his post. "Sensors are tracking a large ship directly ahead. It's moving perpendicular to our flight path - very slowly."
"Can you identify?" Asked Odel, sealing the last conduit and stumbling over to his chair before colapsing.
"Not yet. Shall I plot a firing solution."
"Do it." Was this the ship that had attacked them? "Koren, see if you can get the viewscreen back on-line." Koren nodded and proceeded to rip off a panel from one of the instrument consoles and peer inside. Odel turned his attention back to the rest of his command.
"Solution?" He asked to the room in general.
"Good." Replied Odel, at last feeling that he might have control of the situation. "Upload into guidance systems, vac the tubes and open torpedo outer doors."
"Opening torpedo doors now sir...ready to fire!"
"Condition yellow and hold." Odel turned to Koren. "I need that viewscreen!"
"Just a few seconds, sir." Odel looked at the communications and sensor station.
"Keffler, what can you tell me about that ship?"
"Interrogating transponder now, sir." There was a tense silence. "It's one of ours!" The surprise in Keffler's voice was obvious. "Earth type signature. IFF checks as a non-military transport....the Galaxia - a cruise ship." Odel swore.
At the mention of the name of the ship Koren had turned his attention from the circuitry for a few seconds with a look of surprise which equaled the sum of all the others'. Then he turned back to his work. "Would you like me to call up the passenger manifest?" Asked Keffler.
Odel shook his head. "That won't be necessary."
At the front of the command centre the viewscreen shimmered into life displaying the starfield at the front of the ship. The view was dominated by a giant cruise ship directly ahead.
"Range?" Asked Odel.
"Minimal, but then so is the distance. We will collide in just under two minutes at this course and speed."
Odel nodded. "All back one third." He ordered.
"Main engines are inoperative, commander." Reminded Koren.
Odel swore. "Nose thrusters, one third starboard."
"Thruster controls are not responding."
Then Odel really did swear. He punched the intercom panel. "Enginneering, I need engine control within two minutes."
The tinny voice which replied was not hopeful. "No chance, sir. It will take over half an hour to reset the ion engines. Twice that time for the manouvering thrusters."
Odel snapped his fingers as though the solution to the problem had just occured to him. "Observation? Can you determine our position?"
"Aye, sir. With that thing out there, we can calculate our position to the nearest centimetre."
"Then calculate a jump to our combat position - and smartly."
"Sir, jump computers are off-line."
"Damn. Hail the Galaxia. Warn them to change course."
"Communications systems are down, sir - and they can't see us either, we're stealth, remember."
Odel looked dispairingly around the command centre. "Are you telling me there is no way to avoid this collision." He paused. "How did this happen."
Keffler punched several buttons on his panel. "Got it, sir. The Galaxia was right across our jump path and its engines and idling. The hyperspace field interrupted the jump and pulled us out of hyperspace here."
"But how come we're heading directly for them!"
Keffler shrugged. "Engine polarisation would have re-oriented the ship, sir."
Koren turned to him. "Random shift, sir. It's the only way."
"Are you mad? We need to support the seventh, not jet half way across the galaxy randomly."
"It is the only option! The dangers are substantial, but it's our only chance. There are over one thousand civilians on that ship, and only a hundred soldiers on this one. It is our duty - we have to do it. The seventh had twenty ships coming in to support it, they won't miss one."
Odel turned angrily. "For a naval officer, Koren, you don't know much about tactics. Every ship is essential. If we're late - so be it, but not to turn up at all!"
A battle was raging inside Odel's mind. The decision he made now would directly effect the lives of eleven hundred people, and possibly indirectly change the course of the war. He swallowed. "Is the firing solution still valid?"
"Yes, sir." Replied somone quietly.
"Prepare to fire one torpedo along ship's heading." There were murmurs of dissention - but no one took action, except Koren.
"There are one thousand civilians on that ship! You can't kill them all just to save us. We should make the shift!" Koren's voice was desperate. "The seventh doesn't need us. We must protect those civilians - that is our duty."
"I am aware of our duty, Koren." Snapped Odel. "Our duty is to support the seventh. If we don't, and they fall - billions could die later."
"They may not need our support." Shot back Koren.
"Exactly, but we have no way of knowing. We have to go."
A voice from the intercom broke the tense atmosphere. "Engineering here, I can give you the jump computer system in about 5 minutes."
"There is less than one minute to impact." The voice confirmed Odel's fears.
"Go to condition red one. Standby to fire."
Koren was pleading. "Commander! My nephew is aboard the Galaxia. You can't fire on them!"
Odel swallowed and then turned to the weapons officer. "Fi..."
He was cut off as Koren yelled "NO" and smashed into him. Two security officres pulled him off in a few seconds but the damage was done.
"Confine him to his quarters." Commanded Odel and then looked at the viewscreen.
"We can still fire, sir."
Odel closed his eyes in pain. "Fire!"
Near the lift the two security officers were manhandling a still struggling Koren through the doors but Odel ignored them. He watched the torpedo streaming towards its target. Then the viewscreen went white.
There was, of course, no sound in space and the effect was very strange. When the light died down all that was left was a few pieces of spinning debris.
"Engineering to bridge. Jump computers are now back on-line."
Odel acknowledged the call with a single button push and then turned to one of the stations. "Calculate jump to battle area. Maintain status red one. Prepare to engage enemy vessels."
"Sir," It was Keffler. "Without manouvering engines we'll be a sitting duck."
"The seventh needs our support, mister." Odel's voice was cold and distant. "And they're going to get it."
"Shift calculations complete, commander."
"Prepare to shift."
The preparation to shift proceeded. Calls were made and acknoledged. Voices echoed around the room from around the ship as each station reported in.
Finally. "Ready to shift, sir."
Odel sighed momentarily. "Shift, then."
This time there was no jolt. The starfield changed smoothly to a view from a point over a hundred light years away. Out of the viewscreen Odel could clearly see the glowing hulks of several warships, both human and alien.
"Communications restored, sir." Things seemed to be getting back under control now.
"Scan for active enemy ships. Torpedo batteries - stand by to engage. Ready laser point defence systems..."
"Sir! Sensors are not detecting any enemy vessels in the area."
"Message from flag, sir. 'You've missed the party'."
Odel slumped back into his chair in dispair. All for nothing. We really weren't needed.
He managed to stand shakily and pull himself towards the lift. "I'll be in my quarters." He murmured, and then stepped inside the lift.
The sight that met this eyes confused him for a moment. Koren stood in the centre of the lift, brandishing a knife which the commander had known he had carried. On the floor were the battered, bleeding but still breathing forms of the security guards.
Odel's voice was emotionless. "Now you will kill me." He said simply.
"You killed my nephew! You murdered him. You hard no regard for their lives, only your own." Anger and hate burned in Koren's eyes. The moment he saw them Odel knew he was going to die.
"One of the passengers on that ship was your nephew." He began but Koren had already started an upthrust with the knife. Koren nearly missed the rest of the sentence as the knife entered between his commander's ribs and pierced his heart.
"...The pilot was my wife."