|Twilight of the Empress
Author: TheSilentWitness PM
Experience space combat at its finest up close and personal in the very thick of the battle as you dive into the midst of the ongoing conflict between the Aldarian and Xanthian forces, two child empires of old Earth who took very different paths.Rated: Fiction T - English - Sci-Fi/Adventure - Chapters: 3 - Words: 13,265 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 3 - Updated: 04-11-13 - Published: 12-20-11 - id: 2981285
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It was cold, oh so cold; the unmistakable bone deep chill of vacuum on bare flesh and skin, that brush of death that sucked the warmth out of you as though you were submerged in an endless vat of freezing coolant. Commander Quentin Jace was surprised that he was even still alive; he had locked into his final trajectory on the collision course with the Xanthain cruiser expecting full well to die in the inevitable impact. But here he was, alive for the time being for some reasons unknown, though if he didn't do something soon he wouldn't stay that way.
After all, he was of course dying. The Hunter in the Eclipse had been almost perfectly split in two, each of the kilometer long halves separating before they smashed into the shark-like Xanthian warship obliterating both, or at least that was what Quentin had thought would happen. Somehow though, he and his ship had managed to survive the impact in some form and because of this he now found himself being asphyxiated as the shipboard atmosphere bled out from every single opening on the ship; only the thick armored walls around the deck area had prevented the explosive decompression from sucking him out of the ship along with most of the lighter objects onboard.
Hypoxia clouded was his vision, the lack of oxygen was beginning to get to him. He didn't have much longer, he had to get to an airlock. There were many of these airtight pockets located all over the ship, including one which was nearby the bridge, he just had to find the strength to get there. He swung his head around wildly as best he could, his movements unstable as he tumbled about in the vacuum without any real friction to control his vector; compounding his problems were his tearing painful stinging eyes which felt as though they would explode at any moment without normal hull pressure to keep them intact, he couldn't see anything at all; he had to act quickly if he was going to survive.
He had no choice, he clutched at the bulkhead and once he grabbed hold he pushed off towards a blurry shape which he hoped as an airlock door, as he did so a flickering yellow rectangle appeared directly ahead of him and he felt the gentle tug of an airlock entryway pulling him in and suddenly there was an agonizing squeeze all around his body; he slammed into the floor as he slipped in to the airlock and gravity returned once more. He gasped, sucking precious oxygen back into his system to quiet his screaming lungs and immediately his eyes began to clear up removed from the hostile environment of vacuum. Quentin lay gasping on the floor, his chest heaving staring straight up into the ceiling of the airlock. He couldn't really hear anything, the pressure differentiation from the sudden decompression when the hull was breached had popped both of his eardrums; he could still feel the slow trickling of blood in both his ears, and there was a wet patch of what he also suspected to be blood on the back of his head, probably from when he was thrown to the floor when they impacted the Xanthian cruiser.
A hand flashed in front of his face and he felt more than heard a faint rumble which must have been speaking, he twisted to the left towards its source and saw Lieutenant Hadden standing over him with a look of concern on his face. So somebody else besides him had survived then, perhaps the Lieutenant would know how they had managed to survive.
"I can't hear you Lieutenant, the collision blew my eardrums." He said, not quite sure if it came out clearly. He watched the Lieutenant carefully for a reaction to try and determine whether or not he had been properly heard. The weapons officer shifted slightly in response, and said something again frowning. When Quentin didn't respond he shook his head and knelt down and extended his hand; Quentin grasped it firmly and allowed the junior officer to help him up to his feet. Dante walked over to the wall and pulled down a black box marked with a small red cross, a standard issue Aldarian Med-kit and walked back over to Quentin, gesturing towards a bench by the wall indicating that he wanted the Commander to sit. He flipped open the kit and pulled out a syringe filled with a red fluid which Quentin recognized as a medi-nanite injector; the liquid was filled with tiny machines which would promote growth and healing. He gestured briefly and Quentin turned slightly to offer his left shoulder into which Dante stabbed down with the injector; its effects were almost immediately apparent as wounds began to clot and heal over and Quentin felt his hearing and eyesight slowly but steadily return to normal.
"Testing, testing, let's get those repairs on with now shall we?" Quentin said jokingly, listening to the sound of his voice slowly being registered once more as the nano-bots repaired his ears.
"That seems to have patched you up Commander, I was afraid that perhaps you might not make it given how long you were out there."
"I was close to it, I barely made it here at all; if you hadn't opened the airlock doors...well, I wouldn't be here now."
"You're welcome...did...did you see anybody else still in the bridge area?" the lieutenant asked tentatively.
"No, I'm afraid not, although my vision was not exactly the clearest at the time so there is still hope yet. Did you happen to see anyone else out there?"
"No sir, just you, and it was hard enough already hauling you into here."
"Thank you for that Lieutenant, we'll reassess the situation later but first let's get a sit rep shall we? I'm a little lost as to why we're still alive."
The lieutenant's expression changed, filling with cold disdain, "Is that all you have to say? You just threw away the lives of hundreds of good men and women."
"It was a necessary sacrifice given the circumstances, there was no other option that would ensure the destruction of the enemy cruiser, or so I thought anyways. Our survival now means that there is a chance that we failed at even that goal."
"A necessary sacrifice? You rammed that warship; you sent the Hunter in the Eclipse and her crew of almost seven hundred hurtling at top speed into that Xanthian cruiser like she was some oversized railgun slug. How could that ever be considered even remotely reasonable?"
"Now, officer, I beg you assess the situation more closely. What would you have had me do instead, park the Hunter to be melted to slag? We were out of offensive options."
"Offensive options? What the hell is wrong with you; we lose both Planeswalker and Fireline and all you can think about are your remaining offensive options? We were in a cruiser for god's sake, we could've easily run away at anytime, even after we lost power to the accelerators. A short distance jump was possible at any time!"
"Not an option lieutenant, if we jumped then we would have risked giving away Commander Stinz's position, endangering even more lives. I could not have risked an entire battle group just so our single damaged cruiser could limp home." Quentin's calm demeanor was starkly contrasted by the junior officer's anger, which seemed to have sparked up from out of nowhere from the normally calm weapons officer.
"And so you chose to ram the bloody enemy cruiser without so much as informing at least the rest of the bridge crew, us officers who were right there beside you." Dante growled.
"It was necessary that you remain calm and combat ready, I could not risk causing panic that might affect your judgement, I needed sharp officers, not informed ones. My plan did work after all, didn't it? In the end I accomplished the goal which we set out to: destroying the enemy warship. Does it really matter how I accomplished it when we were in such a dire situation? Even if I had chosen not to ram the enemy cruiser then we still would have been torn to pieces by the enemy, and any life pods we launched would have been picked off or captured, whereas now we've hopefully disabled the enemy leaving the rest of the crew relatively safe."
"You're supposed to be helping to save what's left of this empire, not kill off what little is left of it!"
"And I did, by taking out that cruiser I ensured that it would not go on to further injure, maim, and kill anyone else. I neutralized a threat which otherwise would have gone onwards unhindered at the cost of my ship alongside what looks to be most of my crew. Do not think that I disregarded your lives and safety without cause, I merely assessed that at that point, it was better to die and destroy that enemy vessel than to flee and risk others. You should understand this clearly weapons officer, I know you were amongst the best of your group; you understand the concept of sacrifice very clearly, just as I do. There is nothing more to discuss on this matter, am I clear?"
"Sir, yes sir." Dante said quietly, stiff and formal with little inflection in his voice; clearly he was holding back any remaining comments he had on the matter, not ideal, but Quentin would tolerate that for the time being, he had other things to worry about right now.
"Now, give me a sit rep, you have any idea on what our structural integrity is like? I know for sure we have multiple hill breaches in the area and from the looks of it the rest of the bridge crew is gone but other parts of the ship could have survived relatively intact. You learn anything about that at all?"
"Not from in here, no; I've been trapped inside here with no way to get out, I'd just been sitting here hoping that someone else might make it here when I saw you drifting by outside."
"Unfortunate, but unavoidable." Quentin said falling silent. He stared out past the pressure barrier into the empty bridge area watching as debris and rubble began to slowly drift into the empty cavity.
Quentin knew that the air in this lockup room wouldn't last forever; they had a limited amount of time before they would have to find somewhere else to go. They were cut off from the rest of the ship in this emergency airlock, meant only for short term use surrounded by little apart from the barrier keeping the air inside and thick metal walls around them. A second inspection of the small chamber revealed nothing of use yet again, it really was just them, the seats on the sides of the walls and the sealed oxygen tanks that were slowly running out of breathable atmosphere to release into the cabin.
"We need to find a way out of here, this compartment wasn't made for extended long term use." Quentin said matter-of-factly.
"And what exactly do you suggest we do Commander, we can't exactly just walk out of here."
"There are many suck air locks scattered throughout a warship, the late Hunter in the Eclipse was no different; this air lock is just one of several located throughout her main body, most of them distributed towards her center line straddling her spine with access ports on either side of the ship to allow equal access from both sides. This is the bridge airlock, and so differs slightly in the fact that there is only one single entrance and exit point, which is why we find ourselves in our current predicament with nowhere to go."
"Go on, I assume you have a point to make beyond the fact that we're screwed if we're stuck here with no other way out." Dante interrupted wearing a bored expression.
"Watch your tone lieutenant, we may get out of this alive yet and you are positively asking for charges of insubordination. As I was saying, because of the unique aspects of the bridge area pressure lock, it should have been equipped with sealed vacuum suits; these suits should allow us to exit this airlock and hopefully venture elsewhere, at the very least we'd want to make our way to an airlock further into the ship with a higher volume of atmosphere in its tanks."
"And precisely where would those suits be, I took a look around earlier and I saw nothing."
"They're here somewhere." Quentin said, getting up and walking over to the wall. "We just have to look harder to find them." His pale grey-blue eyes swept across the ridges and cracks in the plating methodically searching for a hint of something hidden of hollow. It took awhile to notice but eventually he found it, the dim shadow in the wall where there should have been none, marking the faint outline of a doorway.
"I found something, do you see it lieutenant?" Quentin said motioning Dante over. "You see that faint shadow, right? That should be a door of some sort, I don't suppose you have any idea how to open it?"
"Weapons management was what was in my job description sir; she's your ship, shouldn't you know?"
Quentin snorted, "You guys are going to be the death of me, unfamiliar with standard ship layouts and protocols. Next time you have the opportunity, take a couple minutes to bring yourself back up to speed with how everything inside these boats work." He moved his hand slowly over the area where the door was marked, closing his eyes and feeling for it. It would be a distinct unmistakable marker; as his hand swept over he expected to feel a tingling sensation similar to a minor shock and as he brushed over a raised bump roughly in the center of the door he felt it, that pricking tingly sensation.
The doorway lit up a bright blue as he pressed his hand down on the area and then with a smooth hiss the panel slide forwards and then to the side to expose what it contained. Inside were a dozen matte black combat suits, vacuum sealed EVA setups which would work just fine for the situation they currently found them in.
"Well then lieutenant, you can suit up first."
Dante rolled his eyes, "What, afraid the equipment on your own ship is booby trapped or something?"
"No," Quentin said flatly, "I just thought you might appreciate getting a suit on first since the air is beginning to thin out here, I'm beginning to feel a little light headed."
Wordlessly, Dante stripped down his outer layers of clothing before pulling on a vacuum suit while Quentin waited patiently, donning his soon after. Inside their black armored suits they faintly reminded Quentin of large black beetles that he used to see back home as a child. After the initial look over Quentin turned his eyes to the heads up displays on the inside of the helmet taking note of all the flashing indicators and panels that were projected before his eyes; there were a multitude of sensors for temperature and internal pressure, but the one Quentin was looking for was the indicator for oxygen levels remaining in the suit.
"Five hours of oxygen in these suits till you head back to the realm of lightheaded hypoxia sir." Dante said, his voice muffled beneath the helmet.
"Use the com-links," Quentin said tapping the outside of his own helmet indicating the upper right corner of his visor. "Actuator is there, the suit is already linked up to your own neural interface so a mental nudge should do it."
"You can hear me more clearly now I assume." Dante said, this time his voice came in clearly through the speakers in Quentin's helmet.
"Yes I can now, so shall we get moving? We've quite a bit of ground to cover and there's no telling how much of the ship is still intact."
"Are you packing, or am I sir?"
"I don't see the problem in us both carrying weapons, I took a rifle from the locker with the vacuum suits and I also have my issue sidearm."
"I have my sidearm but I didn't take a rifle, I thought you didn't like us carrying weapons around unless there was some boarding action going on?"
"The situation now is quite different, and the ship is already destroyed so there is no harm in you doing any further damage to its hulk anyways. You never know when you might need the extra firepower, take a rifle lieutenant."
Thus armed, the two strode slowly to the airlock exit, their armor making muted thuds against the smooth metal flooring even as the vacuum pumps in the chamber struggled to keep the air within from escaping. With one last fateful look they stepped beyond the barrier into the abyss and re-entered the bridge area.
Quentin hadn't seen much of the wreck the bridge had become before because he'd been busy using what little oxygen he had left to try and figure out a way to survive the last time he'd been out here, but now he saw just how much damage the Xanthian Cruiser had inflicted in its final defiant strike. The violet energy lance had sliced right through the Hunter in the Eclipse's armor splitting the bridge almost perfectly in two, it was a wonder he hadn't been sliced in half at the command deck. Spatters of flash frozen blood littered the consoles at the various stations dotted around the bridge and rubble drifted slowly through the vacant spaces; there were no bodies, if anyone else had survived they had been pulled out into the vacuum of space. To their left side was a massive yawning chasm which still glowed orange as the molten metal continued cooling; the beam weapon had done real work on the ship, more melting through her armor than actually forcing its way through. The remains of the other half of the ship could be seen adjacent across the chasm, affixed to some object far outside their field of view keeping it parallel with them. Many of the Hunter in the Eclipse's internal compartments had been exposed and Quentin could make out a thin trail of pulsing blue fluid which leaked from various rooms scattered throughout the ship. If the coolant was still active, then the ship was still functional on some level, Quentin mused; she was a cripple split in two yes, but she wasn't dead yet.
"Quite a view isn't it, she's pretty torn up, but she may just live yet." he said, intent on keeping the lieutenant's mind off of the wreckage he saw before him. A kilometer of devastated steel could do awful things to a serviceman's mind and he needed Dante sharp and ready for action.
"How are we still alive?" Dante whispered.
"We're alive because we got lucky, because you made it to the airlock and you saw me and pulled me in. Because we happened to be farther away from that beam when it sliced the Hunter in the Eclipse in two, we're alive, period. That's all there is to it." Quentin began to walk away from the outer edge, the heels of the vacuum suit tugging gently at the floor with each step he took as they generated the suction which kept him from drifting about. "Come along lieutenant, it's best not to think about these things until we're finally back in safe territory." He said, gesturing at Dante's prone figure staring stiffly out into the vacuum.
After a moment longer the bridge officer finally managed to tear his gaze away from the molten slag across the chasm reluctantly following after Quentin. The access way from the bridge to the rest of the ship was miraculously still intact; and the stepped forwards through the arch aware that at any moment they could come to a passageway which was simply no longer there, located on the other half of the hulk. The passageways were ghostly silent and the sound of their footsteps on the metal floors thunderous; Quentin couldn't help but feel as though they were utterly alone. He was slowly making his way towards the shuttle bay, if any of the transports had survived then there might just be a way off this hulk, but he didn't get his hopes up; in all likely hood the transports had all been smashed up and destroyed either in the earlier engagement or in their final impact.
Their arrival at the hanger bay was uneventful, but what lay beyond once they opened the doors was what as shocking; Quentin wasn't easily impressed but the carnage that lay before him was certainly getting to that point. Jagged scraps of torn walls and armored bulkheads were crumpled up against the far end of the shuttle bay as though someone had taken a tin can and smashed it against another surface, crushing and compressing the metal until it folded beneath the force. Opposite to this mess were jumbled piles of shuttles and other light spacecraft which had been in the bay, thrown against the entrance wall by the impact force of the two cruisers colliding; scorch and scrape marks marked their passage across the hanger floor. They had been for the most part, thrown around like toys, and fragile toys at that considering the forces involved and so from what Quentin could see, the majority of them were damaged beyond repair and inoperable.
"Well, that answers our question as to what happened after we rammed them. Certainly both of our ships are still intact to some degree, but if what we see here is indicative of the extent of the damage dealt when our kinetic force was transferred, then I think we can call it a kill for us." Quentin mused, studying the carnage carefully.
Dante seemed to be studying the wreck as well, natural Quentin supposed, given that he was a weapons officer. He would understand how to analyze impact patterns to ascertain just how much damage had been inflicted so he could determine just what kind of punishment he would have to dish out on his next volley of shots.
"Looks like we lost almost all of her frontal end, I'm surprised the crumpling didn't turn us to the side." Dante noted.
"We went in with enough momentum to keep her steady even as she crumpled, more of a vertical fold than anything leaning towards the side. I made sure of that certainly, otherwise the kinetic energy transfer wouldn't have been significant enough to make ramming worth it; calculations given our approximated knowledge on the armor thickness on a Xanthian Cruiser put us at barely enough energy to puncture through to ensure that we at least holed her. Any sort of curving in our path would have meant that we would've slide along her flank and inflicted minimal damage for the most part."
"What was our final impact speed anyways?"
"A modest mach 8 or so, there wasn't that much distance between us that I could bring us to top sub-light speed."
"Fair enough, still slower than one of our railgun slugs but I suppose the mass was far greater."
"If we'd gone in at the speed of a railgun shot, the ship would've been vaporized on impact and you and I wouldn't be standing here now. Be glad we didn't."
They stepped forwards farther into the empty center of the bay; support columns holding up what would've been the ceiling at some point were cracked but looked to be holding for now. Dante had shouldered his rifle but Quentin kept his within easy reach; he still hadn't secured the ship yet and though they'd encountered nothing else so far, he still got the feeling that there was something they were missing.
"So what now Commander? There don't appear to be any ships here which we can use to get off of this wreck."
"We go onwards, there should be another air lock within 100 meters of here if it survived the impact."
"Through all of this mess? Seems a little foolhardy, why not find another path?"
"Because," Quentin started, pointing forwards at a small stream of blue sparks which arced up from the crumpled metal before them, "Somebody is already cutting a way through for us." He finished bringing his rifle up to bear. "And we're going to thank them by getting ready to greet them with a wall of lead."