Mission log: U. S. S. Phantom; Captain Maxine Deltair. Our recent escape from the Zanasta Minor skirmish has bought us more time than I had originally anticipated. However, I'm sure that this time will vanish quickly, so I've elected to move out of Dromolonian space and abandon our current mission. The consequence of this action is that by moving out of Dromolonian territory, we will, in turn, be moving into Vathkil territory. Although I hate going out of the frying pan and straight into the fire, my staff has assured me that there are no other options available. I would like to note on a personal level that this game of cat and mouse is growing old and I hope to end it sometime soon.
–July 17th, Earth year 2330.
–Location: En route to the Purv-i system; Ferr sector; Vathkil territory.
Maxine could almost feel the stars glinting off of her eyes as she watched the spectacle. The hologram picture was scratchy, and didn't offer much visual aid. But the frequent flashes of color particles in the picture was all that Maxine needed to see to figure out how the battle was going.
And it was practically making her beam, a uncommon occurrence. Though she was millions of kilometers away from the fray, the excitement of it nevertheless brought feelings of aggression and hunger to the surface of her emotions. The feelings were so strong that Maxine could almost feel the adrenaline rushing throughout her body. She wanted to be there, to fight in that battle, to eliminate all the opposition in one swift attack.
But her conscious wouldn't allow that to happen. It's voice, annoyingly buzzing in her head, kept reminding her pumped-up mind of what the new mission was: staying unnoticed for as long as possible, and interfering with the current event would almost certainly jeopardize that mission. Getting out wouldn't be as easy as coming in had been if the Vathkil ever found out the Phantom's current position.
So she put down her aggressive feelings and took a few precious moments to relax. Peaceful moments onboard the Phantom nowadays were as close to happening as a sun suddenly exploding for no reason. Back when they had started this decade-old journey, peaceful moments on this ship were plentiful. So plentiful that it was near boring at times. Now it was a luxury.
The hologram had now completely lost its tracking, becoming nothing more than a misty, distorted cornucopia of rainbow particles dancing in and out of focus; finally sizzling out of focus a few seconds later. The red hot flashes still spiked up occasionally but could barely be made out inside the field of color.
Maxine's smiling face fell instinctively towards the stitched plates of metal covering a small section of the damaged projector. The shiny plates covered a labyrinth of gutted wires sewn together by a adhesive that was no stronger than model glue.
They owed that to depleted supplies.
If the adhesive wasn't working, the metal plates sure didn't show any hint of it. No sparks were shooting out of the device, and it wasn't making any unusual noises. Yet the picture remained very cloudy.
It wasn't long before Maxine heard the concerned voice of her operation's officer.
"I really am sorry about this, ma'am," Lieutenant Kidot Mohica babbled as her furiously tapped on his control panel. "I knew there were still some kinks in the machinery but this is ridiculous."
Maxine smiled warmly at him. "It's alright Kid," she said. "It's not as if we've actually had any time for real repairs. And besides, I think we're all able to accurately guess how its going over there."
"Yeah," a voice from the back of the bridge retorted. "The Dromolonian's are losing."
Maxine turned her head halfway towards the rear. "Lose that thought please, Mr. Ivy, before it takes control over that brilliant but vulnerable mind of yours. The only reason their losing is because they stupidly decided to follow us through the Kil's territory." She looked back at the misty hologram. "A fleet that size wouldn't last very long in–"
"Search group," someone interrupted. "It's a search group ma'am, not a fleet. Two battleship analogs, one destroyer analog, and one radar ship analog. Standard Dromolonian search group."
The voice belonged to the Phantom's tactical officer, Marlin Gladstone. Seated at the right end of the bridge, he drew out all the genius battle plans and strategies that had kept the Phantom and its crew alive for the past decade. His improvisation skills were endless; making him capable of developing on-the-spot strategies for any situation at any time. Maxine would be forever grateful to Admiral Mentrik for assigning him to the Phantom.
Marlin was tall, strapping fellow with small ears and a set of wide brown eyes attached to a stern face. Maxine found the man quite attractive, nowadays more than ever.
The only problem was that Marlin had character fault. He was a genius strategist, and a very handsome, attractive man.
And he knew this. And he would remind the crew, especially Maxine, every chance he got. It was obvious he had a crush on the Captain but sadly for him the feeling wasn't mutual. Maxine found him very annoying at times, and smart-ass types weren't always her choice.
Nevertheless, he was a still the best officer for his job, and Maxine respected him at least for that.
"Whatever," Maxine responded. "That wasn't the point I was trying to make. But you already knew that, didn't you?"
Marlin didn't answer immediately, not realizing at first that Maxine actually wanted him to reply. When he did, he simply said a proud, "Yes, ma'am, I did."
"And do you think that's ample reason to interrupt me?" Maxine asked.
"To avoid an explanation and save us some time, which you consider a primary obligation at this point; yes," he answered with a smile.
An extinguished but noticeable laugh escaped from Ivy.
Maxine ignored it for a few moments. "What makes you think you–?" She stopped, let out a sigh and shook her head. "No, no," she said calmly. "I'm not even gonna bother anymore." She turned, glaring again, and pointed a stern finger in Ivy's direction, symbolically warning him, then turned and looked at the man sitting directly to her right, trying desperately to change the subject. "Are you finished with your scans yet, Mr. Davenport?"
Brett Davenport, the ship's tertiary commander, looked as if he had been waiting ages for her to ask. "Aye, ma'am. Scans show that the markings of the leading battleship match that of the Far'ku'la."
"So it is Vulner." Maxine snickered. "I guess his loss at Germin didn't bode too well with the High Council."
Sergeant Jedos "Jimmy" Talron turned to face her with a rather serious look on his face. "Personally, I'm surprised he still holds his rank as Dang'ha the Highest. A defeat like Germin would've surely knocked him out of the Greatness contention he apparently still holds in the Dromolonian military. Perhaps they're not punishing him because of his past glories, or maybe–"
"As ship's anthropologist, Jimmy, I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually and then give me the data at a later time." Maxine made the hint almost completely obvious to everyone; except to Talron, who excitedly smiled and turned back to his station.
Maxine rolled her eyes–and spotted another staring back at hers. The jungle-green irises belonged to the secondary commander of the ship, Commander Alexandria Rikolen. Alex was Maxine's best friend on the entire ship. Her, Maxine, and Brett had been crewmates together ever since the Phantom's launch exactly 220 years earlier. They had survived the Haunted's attacks, the long sleep in the cryogenic modules. They were the three lone survivors of the Phantom's maiden voyage, and had a very unique bond with each other. Alex and Brett were, themselves, married. Their three year anniversary was coming up in about a month.
Alex had eyebrow raised and was slightly smiling, as if amused.
"What?" Maxine whispered, even though she already the answer to the question.
Alex didn't have time to respond, as Mohica's sharp voice struck out and broke the awkward silence in the room.
"There ma'am, I've got it now," he shouted energetically. He tapped a few buttons on his control panel, practically jamming the return tile into the surface.
And the frizzled hologram picture instantly snapped back into clarity, looking as if it had never had a problem at all. The bright flashes of light became focused and more frequent, and Maxine guessed that the original large flashes had actually been smaller individual shield hits on both side's ships. The battle was growing less intense now as the Dromolonians retreat was almost complete. The one destroyer analog was now a field of floating debris, and the carrier analog was severely damaged in a dozen different spots. The lead battleship, the Far'ku'la, was almost to its jump point, while the remaining ships in the group covered the ship's escape by putting themselves in the line of fire between the Far'ku'la and the numerous Vathkil picket ships in pursuit.
The retreat was a perfect example of Dromolonian Greatness, the generic rules that every Dromolonian obeyed. The result, according to the sketchy anthropological data collected, was a ladder of sorts, each rung being a different level of Greatness, the first rung being at birth. Unlike most glory societies, the Dromolonians did not judge their infants Great or Ungreat based on birth or family blood. Greatness was determined the way it should be, from personal achievement.
In Vulner's case, his personal achievements had outranked most other Dromolonian commanders, putting him in a spot most members of the species could only dream of: Dang'ha the Highest; which was the equivalent of total military commander in human terms though in the Dromolonian culture, the rank was considered almost godlike. The only rank keeping Vulner away from have godlike status was Shool the Greatness: supreme dictator of the Dromolon Empire. At one point in time, about two years ago, Vulner was on the road to becoming the next Shool after the Imperial High Council determined that the current Shool–whose name Maxine couldn't quite remember–was not favored by the Dromolonian's supernatural gods. The High Counsel claimed that the gods instead favored Vulner, and were about to elect the madman Shool. At that time of election, the Phantom was enrolled full-time in the Galactic Minors Alliance, and had been summoned to take part in an attack on a major Dromolonian navy base near the Sek system. The last ships from Gidomear Colony were on the verge of rendezvousing with the main fleet when Vulner suddenly entered the area with several full attack wings of Dromolon battleship, carrier, and destroyer analogs. The Alliance fleet was outnumbered three-to-one, with their retreat vector being blocked by Vulner. The only option was to fight their way out. But that proved worthless as Vulner organized an almost perfect counterdefense, by pummeling the Alliance ships in waves. One attack wing would stay in front of the exit vector, while the other wings split up into smaller half-wings. Those half-wings moved forward and harassed the confused Alliance ships in individual waves, then dropped back to help cover the exit vector. One-fourth of the Alliance fleet was destroyed in first twenty-minutes of battle, most of them destroyed while trying to reach the exit point.
After that, the Alliance regrouped and attempted to develop a battle new strategy. A collaboration of Alliance tacticians and, of course, Marlin Gladstone, formed a resolution that utilized the vicious environment surrounding the battlefield, as well as Vulner's arrogance and overconfidence. In an amazing, and almost inspiring, hit and run attack, the Alliance forces crippled Vulner's fleet and managed to escape with a majority of their ships intact.
Vulner's defeat, according to the High Council, made him fall from the gods favor, and his chance for Shool fell with it. Ever since the Battle of Sek, Vulner's military career declined swiftly. His record, by now, was marked with several defeats and few victories, his Dang'ha status being severely threatened.
The Shool was again open, for it's holder had been assassinated by Kil operatives in a effort to temporarily stall the Dromolonian Empire, though so far their plan wasn't working to well. The High Council would elect a new Shool in the next week according to Alliance sources, and Vulner was still a candidate, though a minor one. The major candidate was Errret, Dang'ha the Supreme of the Dromolan Sphere.
The Dromolan Sphere.
Just the thought of the planet-sized battle station made Maxine's heart skip a beat. The sum of all the fears of the Minor's Alliance and the Phantom's crew was the metal terror. Its enormous size itself was big enough to silence insurrections and quell rebellions. And if those uprises continued, then the stations 10,000 weapons systems would be activated and mop up any remaining opposition. It was approximately the size of Earth, give or take a few thousand kilometers.
The Sphere was an answer to almost all the Dromolonian's problems. In other words, the entire Minor's Alliance. It had been finished after the heroic and stunning Alliance victory at the Battle of Sardiss, after being under construction for nearly a decade. The Phantom discovered the construction of this superweapon by a Dromolonian defector and, after many months of searching for its exact location, confronted the massive battle station at its construction site. But by then it was to late. The station completely overpowered the Phantom;the ship barely left the battle intact.
Ever since then, the only thing the Phantom could do when it confronted the Sphere was run the other way. Even the bravest crew, which Maxine saw everyday, wouldn't dare take on the massive ship.
"Far'ku'la engine activity increasing," Engineer Mary Pastel reported. A second later, the battleship accelerated and disappeared from the area.
With their sacrificial duty now officially over, the remaining Dromolonian ships stopped their useless fire and madly dashed towards the Far'ku'la's exit point.
The carrier, by this time, was a sitting duck, leaking air all over the hull, with its engines completely off-line. The picket ships made easy work of it.
And then it was over. The lone remaining battleship disappeared from the hologram and all was quiet for the first time in a week. The picket ships doubled back and headed towards the bigger destroyer.
Maxine sighed in exhaustion even though she couldn't figure out why she was suddenly tired, and nodded to the waiting brown yes of Kidot Mohica. The Native American tapped his control panel and the hologram shrunk back down into the projector, once again revealing the transparisteel window.
Maxine felt the sleepiness weave its way through her body and was about to sit back and rest her eyes when another voice sharply stopped her.
"Excuse me, ma'am," it said "but I suggest we leave here soon before they spot us." The demanding tone was that of Lieutenant Zim Hamburr, ship's navigation officer.
"Inside voice please, Mr. Hamburr," Maxine answered first. "Then I'll gladly take your course suggestions."
His voice became less sharp. "Already have some prepped, ma'am. Akilmav system. Jump point coordinates 701-delta-527. Cal-class planet-"
"Suggestions that don't have us going anywhere near that Kil patrol," Maxine interrupted.
"Battalion, ma'am, not patrol," Marlin Gladstone said matter-of-factly.
The Captain jabbed an agitated and awake finger in his direction. "Another suggestion please, Mr. Hamburr," she continued.
"Right." He hesitated. "My apologies for not realizing my previous mistake." He tapped on his panel. "Furest system. Jump coordinates 1272-delta-935. Farthest point I can get you, ma'am."
"Is there any danger in going there?"
Zim chuckled. "Well, ma'am, technically there's always a danger. But the danger of them finding us in the Furest system is very low. A risk we can most certainly take. Almost all the planets are inhospitable to the Vathkil. Furest Six can sustain them, but the hydrogen in the atmosphere is quite low."
"They don't present any tactical advantage either unless the Kils would want to attack the Barrier Ring," Marlin chimed in. "Which wouldn't surprise me at all."
A few chuckles and snickers escaped the bridge crew, but Maxine didn't even smile.
"Good for you, Marlin." Maxine said coldly. "Do any of the planets contain a substance that can be mined by the Kils?" she asked.
"Not that I can see," Mary responded from the back corner. "Our data may be outdated, but I doubt the contour of a planet changes much. The Kils apparently overlook it a lot too. The Alliance has used the system as a hideaway on several occasions."
"'Several occasions?'" Maxine repeated. "That doesn't sound too comforting."
Mary smiled apologetically. "I beg your pardon ma'am; when I said hideaway, I meant it like an escape point, a place they can hide, not a base– which im assuming you were thinking."
"On those occasions, Mary, did the Kils ever find the 'hideaway?'
She quickly checked her console. "No, ma'am, all Alliance retreats to the system were successful. No pursuit recorded in any ship's log."
Marlin let out a sigh of disgust. "That data must be outdated. A system like that? I mean look at it; it presents no tactical advantage, no substance worth mining, no inhabitants of any kind. Even a species as dumb as the Vathkil would realize what a nice hiding spot this system makes. I don't like it. I don't like it one bit."
"Well, Marlin, the moment I see you present a better idea–" Mary started.
"Any idea's better than most of yours," Marlin interrupted.
"Only in your demented dreams Mr.–"
"Excuse me!" This time Maxine interrupted. "Recess is over children, time to come in," she said sarcastically. Marlin looked down stubbornly, and Mary simply turned back to her console.
She hated this the most; stopping arguments between crew members. And considering the fact that they had all been together on the same ship for ten years now, Maxine found it increasingly annoying–and somewhat embarrassing–that she still sometimes had to stop these childish debacles. Mary and Marlin were by far the worst of all the crew. They had been at each others throats ever since they first met, and although there had been moments in the journey where they cooperated, most of their time was spent thinking of ways to irritate the other.
Maxine sighed irritably as her mind continued to debate. Finally, she decided to confide in someone else. "Mr. Talron, what do you think?"
Jimmy looked up from his work a little surprised. Maxine assumed he was still working on that Dang'Ha business. As his answered, he tapped in several commands on his console. "Well, ma'am"–Maxine was getting really irked by that now–"I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Mr. Gladstone. His assumption is the best I've heard. By now, I'm sure the Vathkil have–" He stopped abruptly, staring at the data streaming in on his console, then grinned. "Now I have to fully agree with him." He turned and looked at the tactical officer. "The Furest system indeed has no tactical advantage or any other profitable endeavor. And I daresay you were right when you said it was a nice hiding spot." He paused, letting Marlin take in his praise. "That's why we should go there, because it is the perfect hiding spot."
Marlin's smirk disappeared and his eyebrows narrowed.
"And that," Jimmy continued, now turning to face Mary. "Is because not only are the living conditions bad, but six out of the seven planets in the Furest system contain the element Xenon in their atmospheres; a substance considered by the Vathkil to be ungodly. And we all know what that means."
"They can't lay eyes on them," Maxine answered. "Excellent Mr. Talron. Thank you." She paused to acknowledge her anthropologist. "Navigation: set a course for the Furest system."
"Aye ma'am. Course set," Zim responded.
"Begin the run. Kid, watch those Kil ships. Assist Mr. Hamburr in making sure they don't spot us. I'm sure you know what to do?"
"Aye, ma'am. Dropping all outside emissions to minimum."
The Phantom accelerated to run speed and blasted gingerly towards Hamburr's coordinates.
"One last thing to everybody," Maxine said aloud. "Please stop calling me ma'am all the time. After a while, it does get annoying."
"Oh, we'd be happy to oblige, ma'am," Thomas Ivy responded sarcastically. "Just as soon as you stop referring to us as Mr. and Ms. I mean, after a while, it does get annoying."