"Emergency! Emergency! This is the U.C.C.S Augustus, officially licensed transport vessel of the United Corporate Command. We've run aground on a Subspace Vortex and are in dire need of assistance! Repeat, we are a U.C.C vessel carrying critical cargo and require immediate aid!"
"Why do you keep replaying the message? What do you find so fascinating about a simple distress call?"
"It is the registry: It matches the first and most acclaimed of the Augustus Class battleships. How did such an experienced crew get trapped by a Vortex? For that matter, what is a near-legendary warship doing ferrying cargo in the first place?"
"We'll just have to ask them I guess. Speaking of which, we're coming in on approach."
Mathias looked up from the communications panel and frowned at the back of Rift's head. She must of felt his gaze, because moments later she said
"Still getting used to it?"
"Yes. I found your hair quite lovely. Also, your old jacket cost quite a few marks."
"I believe our finances have miraculously survived the cost of a haircut, new hoodie and berat."
Rift replied smartly, pulling said canary-yellow headwear over her now closely cropped crimson hair.
"Besides, we can argue about this later. Right now, we're almost there: Prepare for landing."
"Affirmative… Wait, 'landing'?"
Rift didn't reply, instead pulling down on a control lever and bringing the Dawn Treader roaring out of the gateway. Before them loomed the massive bulk of the Augustus, which was in turn dwarfed by the gaping maw of a Subspace Vortex sitting behind it. Rift seemed entirely unperturbed by either one and continued her approach at full speed.
"It has not escaped my notice, Dear, that we have failed to properly adjust our momentum. Might I suggest we slow down before we crash and die in a very dramatic fashion?"
"No one likes a backseat driver, Mathias."
The ring-shaped Dawn Treader pulled up at the last second, sliding neatly onto the extended bridge pylon on the Augustus's surface. Rift powered down the engines and braced the ship with a powerful force field as it came to a crashing halt at the base of the pylon. Mathias picked himself off the floor and looked around at the miraculously still intact bridge.
"I do not believe I am entirely satisfied with your landing procedures."
"You're welcome to drive next time. Oh wait, that's right! Your flying is specifically mentioned in half a dozen interstellar treaties."
"Only ones you helped draft."
"Well, rank does have its privilege. Now, I believe we have a ship to save?"
Mathias reluctantly let the matter drop and followed Rift off the Bridge, after checking the sensors for life signs aboard the Augustus. Out of what had to have been a crew of at least a thousand, there were only seven readings.
"No time for dramatic entrances."
Rift declared as they reached an internal airlock, which slid away to show the hull of the battleship below. Mathias watched as Rift's skin and ruby-red eyes glowed with a golden light, and an outstretched arm caused the hull plating to be enveloped in the same light and then melt away.
"I am not sure how that does not qualify as a 'dramatic entrance'."
Rift wasn't listening, already having leapt down the hole burned in the floor. Mathias dawned an environmental mask and followed suit, landing on his feet and taking in the surroundings of the critically damaged ship's bridge. Five men, in identical blue jumpsuits and masks, stood in both obvious surprise and relief around their rescuers.
"We didn't detect the Vortex until we were already on top of it. We never even had a chance! I honestly didn't think there was anyone near enough to answer our distress call, Ma'am."
The most portly of the men addressed Rift, voice muffled by his mask.
"Captain Jacob Dobson at your service. I'm sad to say this is all that's left of my crew. We need to get off the Augustus and aboard your vessel, before the Vortex disables it as well."
"What about the cargo?"
The youngest of the crewmen said, only to recoil from a barrage of his comrade's withering glares.
"Does your cargo happen to be the Key to Angel's Rest? Then I think we can manage without it."
Mathias interjected, but Rift tilted her head towards the crewman.
"Why? What's your cargo?"
"Classified U.C.C property, and nothing of interest to you. Now, we need to get off of…"
Dobson began, but Rift cut him off with a wave of her hand.
"You said this is your entire crew, captain?"
She asked, glancing at Mathias, who shrugged.
"I picked up seven life forms, but the Vortex might have been interfering with our instruments."
"Well, the Vortex isn't interfering with ME, and I see seven. What are you carrying, captain?"
"Private U.C.C property, I told you! Now, can we please…"
Mathias stepped forwards boldly, fixing Dobson with a cold gaze.
"Captain, what are you…"
"The Storm Bird! We were… transporting the Storm Bird."
He admitted at last, furtively glancing at the dumbfounded rescuers.
"The… Storm Bird? THE Storm Bird?"
Mathias asked slowly, first fascination and then bewilderment glinting in his eyes.
"In the name of the Angels, You were carrying the STORM BIRD aboard your ship? And then what, you think you just HAPPENED to run into a Subspace Vortex? Are you insane?"
He vehemently admonished them.
"We had our orders. And frankly, I think we've payed enough for our superiors hubris, don't you?"
Dobson said icely, glancing again at what was left of his crew.
"Now, can we please leave my ship and it's accursed cargo to be ripped apart?"
He added with a tone of desperation. Rift and Mathias glanced at each other, the later sighing deeply and then resolutely turning away, to the rear of the bridge.
"I wish. Believe me, I wish. But we are not leaving anyone to have their atoms torn apart and scattered across the Universe. No matter who the United Corporate Command thinks they are."
"You're planning on rescuing that thing?"
One of the other crewmen asked heatedly.
"Two other life forms, remember? I am at least going to save your other friend."
Mathias replied shortly. The man made a noise that was half way between a growl and a shriek. He reached for his gun belt, but Mathias was quicker. He had spun around and aimed directly at the man's head before he had even touched his pistol.
"Do not. Do that."
He said plainly.
"Listen carefully, all of you: We are not leaving until EVERYONE is off this ship. The longer you delay me here, the longer that will take. So please, quietly follow Rift aboard our ship. NOW!"
The last word was practically shouted, and none of the crew seemed interested in arguing with Mathias any more. They obediently followed Rift through the hole in the ceiling as Mathias holstered his gun and sprinted through the Bridge's exit, into the bowels of the crumbling battleship.
"It's almost half a mile to the Storm Bird's containment, through what's left of my powerless ship. We five barely made it to the bridge: Are you sure he can even make it there, much less back?"
Dobson quietly asked Rift as she lead him and his men through the Dawn Treader corridors, to the common room.
"Let me worry about that. You and your men are safe now."
Rift said calmly, before leaving the common Room (Superstitiously locking it behind her, just in case.) and breaking into a run to the Bridge. She practically flew into the pilot's seat and impatiently called Mathias's comm.
"Rift? I am rather busy at the moment."
His infuriatingly noncommittal voice crackled over the speakers.
"I know, but I wanted to warn you: The Augustus is starting to rapidly lose her position."
"Then get the Dawn Treader out of there. You can transport me over once I find our 'cargo'."
"The Vortex's interference is growing worse. I might not be able to."
"That is a chance I am willing to take. Now, I need to…"
There was a horrible screeching noise in the background and Mathias cut off his comm. Rift sighed, but immediately fired up the engines and tried to pull away from the disabled battleship. A loud groaning and lack of movement told her she had wedged the Dawn Treader on tighter than she had meant to. She muttered to herself as her hands flew across the control panel and she started the 'emergency disembarkation' procedure.
A series of torpedoes launched from discret projectors across the Treader's surface into the base of the Augustus's bridge pylon, the explosions rattling both ships. But the heavy armor of the battleship held, with only some surface damage.
Rift hissed, pulling another lever. A tractor beam, far more powerful than anything a medium class ship had a right to have, roared to life and smashed into the pylon base, ripping it to pieces and freeing the Treader. Unfortunately, this sudden force finally overtaxed the Augustus's failing engines and they sputtered out, the proud battleship beginning to rapidly fall towards the Vortex.
Rift quickly maneuvered the Treader to the edge of the Vortex's reach and powered up the Tractor Beam to full. It barely slowed the Augustus down. She panickedly reached for the Comm switch again, but Mathias was already calling her.
"I have the… 'Storm Bird', and her servant. But we seem to be losing ground."
"I know! I'm trying, but I can't get a lock on you and the Treader isn't strong enough to stop the Augustus's dive."
Rift replied with frustration, pulling back on the controls as if hoping that would increase the power of the Tractor Beam.
"Um… not really. It is all we can do to keep alive at the moment. They were keeping the 'Storm Bird' unconscious, so that is not an option."
"Able to create a Subspace Vortex while UNCONSCIOUS? Maybe it really is the Storm Bird."
Rift distractedly mused.
"I am really starting to believe they are. But please, can we focus on one thing at a time?"
"Oh right, sorry. I think I have an idea, but I need to know: Which side of the ship are you on?"
"The one closest to the Vortex, I believe. Why?"
"Just get to the wall and be ready for transport. Oh, and if the others aren't in environmental gear yet, get them some."
Rift silenced the comms and gave all her concentration to the delicate and insanely dangerous maneuver she was about to perform. Her fingers danced across buttons and levers, as she put her idea into practice.
The Tractor Beams were already burning out from the effort of slowing the Augustus down, but they had enough energy that when she focused them on the prow of the battleship, they forced it to swing around and present the formally far side of the vessel to her. Simultaneously, she traced Mathias's comm signal and pinpointed the stretch of hull closest to where he was. Without shields in the way, nothing stopped her from activating the Treader's transports and dematerializing several dozen meters of the ship in a flash of sparkling green light.
Without her ship's sensors and beyond-human vision, she wouldn't have been able to spot three pathetically small humanoid figures come flying out of the ship's interior and into space.
With near superhuman precision, she moved the Tractor Beams from the Augustus altogether and narrowed them into acutely accurate streams, grasping onto the trio and pulling them towards the Treader. And out of the range of the Vortex's interference. Rift allowed herself to breath again as she reset the transporter's and dematerialized Mathias and the others. She waited just long enough to confirm all three of them were aboard, then pulled the Treader into a graceful dive away from the gaping Vortex.
The small red and white ship seemed to hang motionless for a moment, before disappearing back into the gateway with a rush of cascading white energy. Behind it, the proud form of the Augustus collided with the Vortex and was immediately torn apart and shattered into trillions of subatomic particles.