Here is Second Part of the Story’s Climax:
A black hue paints across the holographic surveillance screen. No stars, no planets, no light except for the synchronized flash from that gunship’s running lights.
Toby scratches the soft stubble growing on his chin as he stares at those glowing ship markers in this abnormal space. They look more like target queues than navigation beacons. One would think to turn those things off. Then again, as Commander Emerson told him, the Telrachnids base their ship operations on what they stole from SpaceComm. And SpaceComm has yet to writeup tactical procedures for battle in abnormal space.
Smriti’s surprised voice blasts through her Orca suit external speakers as she swings her chair around to face him, “figured out how to follow us, huh?”
Toby eyes Smriti firmly strapped in that swivel chair with two security guards around her. Best to keep her distracted. So, he stokes her enragement. “Yep. You know, your waiting for me a few months is not as bad as me waiting ten years for you.”
Smriti’s face inflates like a swollen star. “I didn’t know you were old fashioned! Perhaps I should just sit around and nurse your babies?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Certainly sounded like it!”
As Smriti simmers in her Orca suit, Toby watches intently. No doubt she’s also warning the gunship at this very moment. Time to give chase. “Helm, 50% thrust . . . let’s not lose them.”
“There are no stars to navigate,” comes the response.
“Use internal guidance and their infrared signature,” responds Toby as he eyes the dim infrared shadow of the gunship on the holographic screen. Then he smiles and says “Weapons Officer, hit’em with the Sand Mass Rail Cannons and line up the main railgun, stay on them!”
Now, the surveillance screen shows blue glowing projectiles flying towards the gunship.
As the gunship’s running lights suddenly turn off, Smriti’s voice interjects again, “you think you can track us in this darkness?” Then looking at what remains of Toby’s left arm, she smirks. “Your ship is like a one-armed man. How will you navigate . . . without the stars?”
Toby gives a painful shrug at the nub of what’s left of his shoulder then points towards the holographic screen with his right hand, “I’ll grow another and . . . we’ll just follow you.”
Now Smriti’s voice ripples with smugness, don’t get lost.”
“Hum, that’s no different from your planned 10-year jaunt on some science expedition!”
Smriti’s silent but heated response glares in on Toby.
Her fiery stare pushes Toby’s eyes downward. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that. Perhaps it’s time to change tact. And with Susan still slumped over in her seat and out of the picture, perhaps he can reach Smriti. So, he looks back up at her with a relaxed expression. “Smriti, you got to fight’em. The Telrachnids are trying to turn us against each other. Remember what you said, you wanted to tell me about them. Remember?”
The appeal seems to have an effect as Smriti’s heat-ray expression cools.
“Smriti, fight them, not me. Remember you are on this ship, with me, not them, they’re using you.”
Smriti’s mouth cracks open slightly, “I’m trying. But it’s hard. . . their voices, their stings, some Telrachnid spiders are sealed up inside this environmental suit with me.”
“Then smash them, Smriti. Their telepathic strength weakens when they are fewer and farther away. You fight’em inside that suit and I’ll fight’em out here.”
As Smriti’s eyes return from their earlier zombie state, she wiggles inside her suit.
“Telrachnid gunship 2,000 meters,” says the Surveillance Officer.
Toby cuts his eyes towards the holographic surveillance screen. “Weapons Officer, launch tubes 49 and 50, point blank range.”
“No missile lock, the gunship will outmaneuver them,” comes back the response as the Weapons Officer pushes the launch button.
“Doesn’t matter, just keep the pressure up on that gunship,” says Toby as the Princeton nudges back slightly from the launch.
Again, the gunship turns sharply to port while launching countermeasures to avoid the speeding missiles. A standard SpaceComm maneuver that will keep them occupied.
“Helm, stay on them and keep the internal navigation computer updated incase we need to find our way back on our own.” says Toby.
“The gunship’s energy output is increasing again,” announces the Surveillance Officer.
A slight smile forms at the edge of Toby’s mouth. As desired, the gunship is about to D-Jump back to normal space. Time to tell Chief Stockton to remotely activate the missiles waiting for them back in normal space. But he can’t just blurt out that order for Smriti to hear. She might succumb again and warn that Telrachnid gunship. So, unsure of Smriti’s intentions, Toby just glances over Smriti’s shoulder to the chief seated behind her.
The chief returns Toby’s look with a narrowed eye as his index finger hovers over a glowing red button on his holographic panel.
That’s the chief’s ready signal. So, Toby just gives a slight nod.
“Hope this works,” Stockton says quietly to himself as he presses the glowing red holographic button with an uncertain look.
A more confident and secretive response from the chief would have been appreciated. So, Toby brings the subject back to what Smriti already knows about. ”Chief, warm up the crowbar. Make ready to D-Jump after them. Helm, continue the chase!”
“Aye-aye,” comes a synchronized response from the chief and helms woman.
“Red Alert! All hands brace for military acceleration and maneuvers,” comes a reminder from the ship’s 1MC communication system.
The next phase of the plan to surprise the gunship when it returns to normal space is now in place. But Toby still wonders if the Crowbar will work again. Or maybe another undiscovered compromised person managed to sabotage the thing just now. And that antimatter regulator could give out any moment. They could be stuck here in abnormal space forever. Now Toby’s eyes settle on Smriti. Well, she wouldn’t have to wait for his ship to come in. She’d be lost along with the rest of them.
Then Toby glances to the medic shooting something into the medical port on Smriti’s Orca suit as she wiggles about, her eyes filled with what looks like angry concentration. So, it’s probably best not to piss her off again as he returns his gaze to the fleeing gunship which now has smoke and flame bursting out from behind the vessel. The Sand Rail Cannons are having the desired effect.
“Gunship range holding steady at 1000 meters,” says the Surveillance Officer.
“Weapons, fire another main Railgun shot, no need for a target lock. Just scare the shit out of them,” says Toby as the Princeton nudges backward again from the railgun’s recoil.
“Another hit on the back porch,” says the Weapons Officer with a certain level of quiet pride in his manually aimed shot.
Now the gunship turns sharply to port as a red orange halo envelops it.
“Time to go,” Toby tells the chief softly.
“Yes sir,” responds the chief.
“Helm, follow them, increase thrust to 75%, no more,” says Toby still unsure if the ship’s antimatter regulator will function properly or ignite the ship to a bright annihilation.
But a hard accelerated shove that now presses against Toby’s chest signals that it’s too late to worry about that.
Then the 1MC announces, “Crowbar triggered.” Suddenly an orange curtain blazes across the holographic viewer and blocks out the inky blackness of abnormal space.
Once again, curiosity wedges Toby’s eyes wide open to the bright fiery red and orange colors as the ship swerves to the left. It’s a painful turn that squeezes his upper body all the way up to his inquiring eyeballs.
After what seems like an eternity, the bright vermilion curtain lifts to show the gunship much further ahead in the familiar black field of normal space, filled with stars and luminous dust. Somehow the USS Princeton spent more time transiting back giving the gunship a significant head start. But at least that antimatter regulator held up.
Then Chief Stockton announces, “remote-controlled missiles 21, 22 and 23 locked on and giving chase!”
Now, it seems every eye on the bridge is staring at the holographic viewer. Even Smriti stops fidgeting to eye the gunship, now a distant speck in the surveillance screen as it weaves and bobs about as if trying to avoid something.
But a locked-on missile rarely misses, much less all three as they ignite their nuclear payloads against their target leaving a bright glowing ember where the gunship once was.
The resulting thermonuclear blasts throw out huge shockwaves of interstellar dust and plasma that impact against the Princeton. Sounding like someone wacked the ship’s armored hull with an oversized iron hammer, three rapid ear-piercing metallic bangs echo throughout the ship. The sonic impacts throw everyone back against their seats.
“Got’em . . .” the chief says nonchalantly as he assumes a calm posture, like he knew all the time that his handy work would triumph.
“Target incinerated. Scratch one gunship!” confirms the Weapons Officer.
“Nothing left but molten carbon steel fragments,” adds the Surveillance Officer.
Suddenly, the entire bridge erupts in a loud cheer.
“Smriti? Can you still hear them?” asks Toby over the happy ruckus.
But her silence deafens Toby to the commotion erupting on the bridge.
“She’s passed out,” says the medic. “I injected a diluted form of the Nox gas into her suit to help her kill off those bugs. She should wake up shortly.”
“Too bad we can’t do that on a galactic scale,” grouses Toby.
– end scene –
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