The pair of guardsmen cautiously entered the cavernous hangar, looking around for the source of the vibrations they were feeling. A Mech-suit could be seen walking along the half-lit hangar's runway, its heavy footsteps making the metal surface shake. One of the guardsmen watched the Mech-suit for a moment before reaching for his communicator.
"This is Patrol 17 in the upper main hangar. Can I have a check on authorised marches?"
"One second Patrol 17."
"I wouldn't bother." The click of a lighter drew the guardsmen's attention to a shadowed figure seated on a crate in the depths of an empty machine garage. "The Engine-lord doesn't need authorisation."
The guardsman who'd initially spoken glanced again at the Mech-suit, looking for any identifying symbols. The shadowed figure gave a barely-visible nod towards it, lifting the lit cigarette to their lips.
"He woke me a few hours ago. Said he had ideas for how to improve the suits."
The second guardsman grabbed for the torch attached to the barrel of his rifle, flicking it on and aiming it at the figure. Antonia Severitti, her face as usual half-concealed by her blonde hair, stared back at the guardsmen, smirking at their embarrassed reactions.
"Lady Severitti! Our apologies!"
The guardsmen knelt as the current head of Clan Severitti rose from the crate. She glanced down at them with a bemused expression before taking hold of the loud hailer that had been next to her on the crate, striding from the garage.
"Kristoph. Come back here and give a report. Descendo."
At the far end of the hangar the Mech-suit smoothly turned, striding down the runway at an unbroken pace, and eventually came to a halt in front of the trio, looming over them.
The Mech-suit was a squat but somehow slender machine, standing five meters tall but only half that wide. Its armour plating was curved, with no seams between each piece visible, and the guardsmen started when the front plating split into two retracting sections. The Engine-lord, the man responsible for maintaining the Mech-suits of Clan Severitti, sat in its control throne and Antonia clambered up into the cockpit to carefully unplug the elderly man from the machine.
"It worked like a charm!" Kristoph Piersson reached down into the bowels of the cockpit and straightened after a moment, a piece of equipment in his hands. "I'll take this down to the fabricator and start mass production."
The Engine-lord paused as he noticed the two guardsmen and glanced over at Antonia, a quizzical expression on his wrinkled face.
"Your tests gained us attention Engine-lord. But these men were just leaving to continue their patrol. Weren't you?"
The guardsmen hastily backed away, almost tripping over themselves, and Antonia started laughing after the hatch had closed.
"You were cruel to tease them so dear child."
There was reproach in Kristoph's voice and Antonia's laughter drifted away uncomfortably.
"Apologies Uncle. But they would have gawked for hours otherwise."
A short bark of laughter came from the Engine-lord and he half-turned as he made his way to the hatch.
"I'll mass produce my new module and then install the first one into your Mech-suit personally. Your pilots should be ready to march by the time we get to Ecthelion."
Nearly a dozen starships burst from slip-space, assembling into a formation that put the largest but most vulnerable vessel in the center. On the bridge of that vessel, the storied Grand Carrier Echoes of Old Earth, Antonia watched naval officers hurrying around each other in a well-choreographed ballet. Stepping away from the throne that dominated the roughly oval chamber, patting the meaty shoulder of the man who occupied it, she walked towards the large bulkhead doors at the rear of the bridge, her pulse already picking up in excitement. At full burn it would only take a few hours for the small fleet to achieve orbit over Ecthelion, a bit longer if the ships already there weren't as dead as they seemed, but it would take that amount of time to get her forces ready to deploy. While riding a turbolift car to the upper main hangar, where she and the Engine-lord had tested new equipment only a few hours earlier, Antonia began a series of breathing exercises designed to get her ready for merging with her Mech-suit.
Stepping from the turbolift car she almost instantly had to dodge a fast-moving cart laden with weaponry. Following after it Antonia was hit by a wave of noise, gazing with wonder at the sight of a Clan preparing for war. It never failed to amaze her to see Mech-suits marching in formation, to feel their passing in her bones, and she went to close her eyes.
"Impressive isn't it?" Antonia whirled as she heard a voice, already nodding vigorously before realising who'd asked the question. "I always used to hide in one of the service ducts and watch Father march off to war."
Lucius Severitti had long ago surrendered his claim to lordship of the Clan, having proved unable to merge with a Mech-suit, and Antonia hadn't seen him since the death of their father.
"I remember. But where have you been? Do you watch me?"
"I'm a little big to fit in the ducts. But yes, I still find time to watch the occasional deployment."
It hadn't missed Antonia's notice that Lucius had failed to say where he'd been but she ignored his omission.
"I need to go. We'll talk when I return?"
"Of course. March with honour."
Antonia began walking towards her Mech-suit, constantly glancing behind her to make sure her brother was still near the hatch. A technician stood by a short ladder leaning against the Mech-suit and she helped Antonia up into the machine's cockpit, plugging her in once Antonia was settled into the control throne.
A Mech-suit had a primitive intelligence lurking within its systems, that intelligence growing with each pilot that merged with it. Antonia mentally greeted her machine's spirit, relaxing into its embrace, and the armour slid shut over the cockpit, Antonia's sense of self expanding until she was the Mech-suit. She began walking, striding with purpose towards one of the dropships that sat in two columns down the middle of the runway, and the three-dozen other Mech-suits that were operational began sounding their horns in salute.
Antonia stomped up the dropship ramp, carefully turning in place, and clamps rose from the floor to ensure the Mech-suit didn't move. The landing was believed to be a hot one, as most landings tended to be, and nobody wanted to block their fellow clansmen by falling whilst still in the dropship. A countdown timer began sounding as the ramp locked into its closed position, the sound of engines rising to deafening levels, and then there was a brief sensation of acceleration before the grip of gravity fell away.
As squadrons of dropships raced from the twin main hangars of the Echoes of Old Earth two other ships in the fleet opened fire on the planet below. The dropships followed the fat bolts of energy, diving down into the atmosphere, and slowly began spreading out as the drop-zone came into hazy view. A sea of reptilians surrounded multiple mushroom clouds, the creatures reeling from the bombarded areas, and the dropships darted into the rising clouds, landing and dropping their ramps.
Mech-suits charged from the dropships and as Antonia thundered from hers the cannons mounted to the undersides of her arms slid forward with a clunk that was lost amid the din. Letting out a short hoot Antonia opened fire on the creatures before her, her own bolts of weaponised energy tearing through one reptilian roughly her own size. Other Mech-suits moved to flank her, rapidly clearing a gap in the horde, and the semi-circular formation they created steadily advanced, cutting down everything in its path.
The scene was repeated inside each mushroom cloud, scores of reptilians wiped out before their attackers even left the cover of the dust. The first Mech-suit to do so roared as it stepped into the sunlight, a missile pod climbing up its back to sit over the machine's right shoulder. The projectiles burst out, arcing over the horde on separate trajectories and then plunging down into it. They didn't have the same impact as the orbital bombardment but dozens of reptilians were still slain by each missile, the Mech-suit letting out another roar in triumph. Antonia emerged from the dust a few seconds later, easily side-stepping the roaring Mech-suit, and her energy cannons unleashed more death.
No-one belonging to any Clan knew where the reptilians had come from, indeed they all knew little about the aliens outside what had been learned in bars or combat. Reptilians were largely identical, except in matters of size, being roughly bipedal monsters with snouted heads filled by razor-sharp teeth and finely-muscled limbs ending in oversized claws. Based on experience the reptilians were divided into two fuzzily-defined groups based on their size with the term 'dinosaur' referring to any reptilian larger than an average human adult and 'lizard' meaning everything smaller.
Antonia ran forward towards a reptilian four times taller than herself that towered over the battlefield, one of around a hundred she could see, and retracted her cannons. Leaping up at the massive dinosaur Antonia drove clawed fingers into the flesh of its back, hauling herself up towards its head. A group of smaller reptilians, widely understood to be immature specimens, were clinging onto the dinosaur and the Mech-suit paused in its ascent, a cannon sliding forward to spit energy up at the lizards. The giant reptilian she was attached to shifted as stray bolts dug into it, letting out a pained cry when Antonia dug her feet into its flesh to stabilise herself.
From her vantage point Antonia could see how her clansmen fared fighting their own battles. Aiming her extended cannon she fired off a shot at her mount's head, rapidly swinging it round to shoot a pack of lizards away from a Mech-suit they'd borne to the ground. The dinosaur staggered for a moment, the back of its head missing, before it bonelessly toppled forward. One of the creatures attacking the other Mech-suit, virtually identical to all the other little reptilians Antonia had just slaughtered, scampered away as a bolt of energy scorched it, in its fear blind to a third Mech-suit that proceeded to send it flying with a desultory kick.
After helping Lisbeth, the female pilot's symbols now visible, to her feet the two Mech-suits hooted when Antonia jumped down from the giant. There was a moment where they all seemed to share a look, a moment broken though by the shattering of armour when a large dinosaur closed its jaws over the top half of the rescued Mech-suit. Lisbeth's legs remained where they were before being batted aside by the furious passage of a pack of lizards but Antonia's attention was on Lisbeth's killer. With a muffled boom the dying Mech-suit's power core exploded, vaporising the head and neck of the large creature, and its body fell onto its side with a thump.
Elsewhere Damien, an eccentric veteran with decades of service under his belt, charged the reptilians. Unlike most of the Mech-suits Damien wielded great blades instead of energy cannons, scything through the flesh of his opponents with ease. Turning in place, a blade taking the head from a reptilian just short of being called a dinosaur, Damien swung at an approaching dinosaur a third taller than he was. With a tooth-filled grin, there couldn't be any other word for it, the large reptilian used claws to entangle the blade, reaching down to pluck Damien from the ground. The Mech-suit was shaken once in the dinosaur's grip, dull thuds coming from within the cockpit, and then its front plating began retracting, Damien tumbling out of the machine.
The pilot tried scrambling to his feet, crying out when his broken left leg buckled and put him on the ground. Pulling his pistol from its holster Damien watched as his Mech-suit was cast aside like trash, pointing the pistol up at the dinosaur. It glared back, a single eye twitching for a moment, and Damien groaned as he shifted his aim, firing uselessly at the fast-moving pack of lizards that swiftly ended his life. The veteran was soon avenged by another Mech-suit, the flame-throwers attached to Raven's arms sending out jets of flame that turned the lizards into flailing torches. Stomping through their blackened bones Raven fired at the scorched dinosaur with a shoulder-mounted cannon, the bolt of energy hitting the large reptilian under its jaw and punching through its skull.
The battle continued for hours, tactical orbital bombardments breaking the sea into manageable lakes, until the sun was nearly beneath the horizon. Antonia stood atop a pile of slaughtered reptilians, a foot idly grinding them into putty, and she turned to survey the ruined landscape. The scream of a descending dropship, the first of the reinforcing wave, drew her attention skyward and some instinct told the Mech-suit to set off after it, uncaring of the carpet of flesh she was walking on.
The dropship landed in the courtyard of a bastion, built into the side of a mountain, that was surrounded by its own mounds of dead. A few reptilians were on the walls, the torn-apart corpses of guardsmen scattered around them, and the Engine-lord delicately coughed as he walked from the dropship, the stench making a few of his servants retch. A group of Federal Guard officers from the bastion's garrison approached Kristoph, the senior officer briefly glancing at the undecorated dropship.
"My thanks Clan lord. Can I ask who it was that has intervened?"
"Clan Severitti has come to your aid. And it is not me to whom you should be thanking."
"Then who is sir?"
The grinding of metal on stone drew everyone's attention to the fractured gates of the bastion and Kristoph shook his head at the sight of a Mech-suit trying to gain access to the courtyard. The rest of the still-mobile Mech-suits would soon be arriving, drawn by the programming triggered by his dropship's unique scream, and Antonia would be among them. Turning to his servants Kristoph sent them towards the Mech-suit before glancing back at the officers.
"The Lady Antonia Severitti, head of Clan Severitti, is who you should thank. She'll be here soon."
The servants slowly moved around the Mech-suits as they assembled in front of the bastion, speaking the phrase-word that would divide pilot and machine. Other dropships fell to the surface, loaded with supplies for the drained Clan pilots or flying to downed Mech-suits, and Antonia made her way through the crowds to stand at the head of her army. Kristoph ventured from the bastion, the Federal Guard officers trailing after him, and gazed at the battered Mech-suit.
"Descendo." The phrase-word triggered the retracting of the machine's scarred plating and Kristoph gestured at the woman seated inside the Mech-suit. "Your saviour Colonel Morris, gentlemen. The Lady Antonia Severitti."
A servant ran over, scrambling up a ladder and unplugging Antonia from her machine, and between Kristoph and the servant she was helped to the ground. The Federal Guard officers went to thank her but Antonia stopped them.
"We are all human. Don't thank me for something you'd have done if our situations were reversed. Tell me of the situation instead."
"The reptilians struck just under a week ago, sweeping aside our ships in orbit and making planetfall." Morris paused for a moment as Antonia accepted a ration-pack from the servant. "We were under siege almost immediately."
"Why here? Your fort is impressive and the Federal Guard just as impressive for holding out but there must be a reason."
Morris shrugged, a movement that Antonia felt was too practised.
"I believe we were simply the closest to where they landed."
"If that's the case then we also need to wipe out any that didn't stick with the horde."
Antonia nodded at Kristoph's words, half-turning to look at the nearest Mech-suits. All had been damaged to some degree and she glanced at Kristoph.
"Start repairing the machines, ship the most damaged back to the carrier if you have to. We'll march as soon as we have a decent force."
"Can we offer support?"
Antonia glanced at Morris before shaking her head.
"We wouldn't be here if you could handle everything. Stay here and hold your fort."
Morris gestured for his subordinates to withdraw into the bastion, scowling at the dismissal and apparent belittlement of his guardsmen.
Antonia waited until Colonel Morris and his officers had disappeared back inside the bastion before glancing at Kristoph.
"They're hiding something. The reptilians wouldn't go after somewhere small like this."
"Perhaps Colonel Morris is simply correct?"
Antonia shrugged, reaching into a jumpsuit pocket to retrieve a cigarette and lighter.
"These guys sent the distress signal, not any of the city garrisons, but claim to be of no importance." She sighed, blowing out a stream of smoke. "Forget them. What about us?"
Kristoph studied the notebook he'd been scribbling in since landing.
"Our numbers stand at three hundred forty-seven uploading machines. Until we can recover those who aren't uploading I don't know how many of their pilots are alive."
Antonia's voice was flat, emotionless, and she stared out at somewhere only she could see.
"Orbital imaging confirmed that this was a sizable horde. Several thousand at least. We were able to record as much of the battle as we could see."
A ghost of a smile flitted across Antonia's face and she glanced up at the long tear running the length of her Mech-suit's right arm. Kristoph noticed that she was tracing where the damage would be on her own arm, reaching out gently to stop her.
"Sorry. I was just…"
"A Mech-suit doesn't have damage translation for a reason. Maybe I need to look at removing the enhanced feedback modules I've installed."
"Do that Uncle, and we might as well just field the Clan Guard."
Antonia yawned and Kristoph shook his head, remembering how exhausting it was to pilot a Mech-suit. Reaching down he took her cigarette with one hand, stubbing it out against her machine's armour, and used the other to haul Antonia towards the nearest dropship.
"I'll organise a sleep cycle for you lot and arrange the establishment of a field camp. We can hunt any wandering reptilians tomorrow. Now is the time for you to rest."
The rising sun nearly turned the inside of the dropship into an oven. Blinking the sleep from her eyes Antonia rose from the thin mattress she'd slept on. It had been supplied by the bastion's quartermasters after conciliatory words from Kristoph, they had plenty spare after nearly a week of fighting, but if that was what counted as bedding Antonia pitied the Federal Guard. Stepping around the still-sleeping clansmen she shared the dropship with Antonia paused in the doorframe of a side hatch, struggling to process what she remembered of the battle.
By just going a bit to her left she could see the aftermath, a vast field of reptilian corpses stretching into the distance, but she instead headed towards the field camp, passing between the ranks of empty Mech-suits. A hand gently felt the lower edge of a ragged scar as she walked past one, knowing that only a few inches higher and the pilot might have lost one or both legs. Letting her hand drop Antonia cleared the ranks, crossing the thin strip of open ground and pushing open the door of the nearest workshop pre-fab. An artificer was hunched over a piece of split armour, a blow-torch in one hand and a smaller sheet of metal in the other.
"That came from Mikhail's suit."
Antonia turned at the sound of Kristoph's voice, spotting him on the other side of a Mech-suit on a tilted surface at the back of the workshop. The Engine-lord had been running a scanner over the machine, making notes whenever the scanner bleeped, but he'd paused when Antonia had entered.
"Looks like a piece from the back."
Kristoph nodded, placing the scanner on a table behind him before walking around the Mech-suit.
"It is. Mikhail's currently in orbit with a damaged spine. He'll need bionics but still might not march again." Antonia paused as the words sank in, recalling the Mech-suit she'd touched earlier. How many of her clansmen had suffered live-changing injuries? "Did you want anything?"
Antonia half-turned, suddenly indecisive, before shaking her head.
"I was going to ask about my Mech-suit. It can wait though."
"Of course. The door will always be open."
After leaving the workshop Antonia climbed atop the bastion's walls. The field camp was spread out before her, a curved line of dropships its boundary. Turning slightly she looked down into the bastion courtyard. An infirmary pre-fab had been established for her wounded, presumably the result of more diplomacy from Kristoph, but there were still more patients than it was supposed to deal with.
"You are glad of our support now Lady Severitti?"
The words were mocking but Antonia accepted them as just the words, turning to glance at Colonel Morris.
"I apologise for my rash words yesterday Colonel. Thank you for the kindness you have shown us."
"As you said. You'd have done the same."
"What was this fort built for?" Antonia turned in a full circle, gesturing at the bastion and the battlefield. "Something important, I think, for you to have sent a distress signal."
Morris looked conflicted before letting out a sigh, leaning against the parapet.
"How much do you know of our conflict with the reptilians?"
"Clan Severitti has fought a couple of hordes. Nothing the size of this one though."
"The war isn't going as well as it could be. This bastion was built over a facility charged with developing ways we could end it."
"What have you come up with?" Morris glanced at Antonia, scribbling a list onto a scrap of paper. Antonia let out a slow whistle as she read the list before handing the paper back. "Someone involved in your supply chain must've talked somehow."
"That's one assumption."
"How would you explain your fort being attacked?"
Morris shrugged, conceding her point, before his attention was grabbed by movement within the field camp.
"Some of your people are awake Lady Severitti."
Antonia glanced down at the field camp, spotting clansmen emerge from the dropships, and let out a snort of amusement.
"You started this conversation Colonel. I suppose I shall end it." She went to descend from the wall, turning back to face the officer. "You're a definite target now though. Secrecy isn't an ally anymore."
The Engine-lord had left his workshop by the time Antonia made it down to the ground, the clansmen beginning to gather around him. She caught hints of discussion as she approached, heard Kristoph declare which Mech-suits were mechanically functional, and a grin appeared upon hearing that her machine could march. Weaving through the growing crowd Antonia paused next to Kristoph. The Engine-lord glanced at her for a moment before pulling out his notebook, leaning in and lowering his voice.
"The teams I sent out have finished sweeping the field. We've recovered what we could."
He'd opened the notebook to a specific page and Antonia silently read the names written there, putting a face to all of them. After a second she took the notebook and looked up at the clansmen, coughing to clear her throat.
"We achieved a great victory yesterday. But we all know no victory comes without cost. Today we few pay the first tribute to the forty-eight who gave all for our victory."
The clansmen were silent as Antonia read out the names of the dead, each remembering those they knew. Eventually her reading came to an end and Kristoph retrieved his notebook, looking at the clansmen.
"Any of you with the skill to repair Mech-suits have just been drafted to help me. Everyone else, find something useful to do."
The majority of the clansmen dispersed until Antonia and around thirty others remained. Kristoph initially ignored Antonia, he knew she had only a basic practical knowledge, but quickly sent the rest to the workshops before focusing on her.
"Don't you have something to do?"
"We should just start shipping everything back to the fleet. The facilities aboard the Echoes of Old Earth are better than any pre-fab."
"True. I'll start arranging it. But you didn't just want to ask that question did you?"
Antonia's eyes flicked towards the Mech-suit visible at the back of the workshop.
"We still need to see if there are any stragglers."
With a slight smile the Engine-lord pointed behind Antonia. She turned, gasping upon seeing her Mech-suit, and took a single step towards it. The torn armour of the right arm had clearly been replaced by metal from another machine but both legs lacked any plates, their inner workings exposed.
"Don't rely on your right arm. That armour is just that, not an actual fix."
"You've found some then?"
The Engine-lord nodded in response to Antonia's question.
"Just the one lot. It's a group travelling east, about three hundred kilometers away. A pair of dropships will be set aside for your squad."
The dropships were on the ground just long enough for the twenty Mech-suits to disembark. Antonia was in the lead, her remaining cannon spitting out bolts of energy. A great reptilian, the only one of its size in the group, roared as it was struck and turned, crushing a smaller creature beneath its feet. The Mech-suits all gave a blast of their horns in response, a hail of bolts tearing the dinosaur apart. The rest of the reptilians spun to face the new threat, killing as many of their own in their haste as the second volley from the Mech-suits did, and then the ground just in front of them exploded.
The dropships had risen to hover over their former passengers, gaining enough altitude to have line of sight on the reptilians, and both sent a set of missiles at the creatures. A score were flash-fried by the heat of the detonations and through the dust came a third volley that ripped into the creatures. The Mech-suits though didn't step through the dust, instead using the cover to shift their positions, and there was a moment of calm. Antonia was prowling the length of her battle-line, the scanners installed aboard the Mech-suit reaching out towards the reptilians, and she paused as the first inch of a snout appeared.
She let out a long horn-blast and the battle-line took a step backwards. A massive bolt of energy descended like a meteorite, crashing into the reptilians and throwing bits of them and chunks of earth into the air. The Mech-suits weathered the bombardment, bracing themselves against the wave of pressure and dust, before each resumed firing. Reptilians began emerging from the dust, horribly injured by the orbital strike, and half of the Mech-suits returned to their previous positions, underslung cannons clunking backwards. The moment a reptilian reached the line, having somehow avoided the energy hurled at it, a Mech-suit would lash out, driving a closed fist into the creature. Time and again this was repeated, a mount of dead reptilians growing in front of the Mech-suits, until Antonia fired one last shot at a lizard cresting the mound. The creature limply tumbled down the mound, coming to a stop in front of its killer, and Antonia crushed it underfoot as she turned towards the waiting dropships.
The two dropships paused at the wreck of the reptilian ship, the only one left on Ecthelion after all the orbital bombardments, when they flew back over it. The vessel was lying on the ground, broken by the impact of its landing, and it was obvious that it would never fly again under its own power. The dropships hovered for a moment, their pilots communicating with the field camp, before one started descending, the other continuing to the field camp. Two Mech-suits walked from the landed transport, moving towards a hole in the larger vessel's hull. Reptilian ships had been recovered before, their technology taken apart to be studied by federal scientists, but this was the first time a Clan had the chance to investigate one without the Federal Guard being present.
The interior was filled with corridors of various heights, no doubt built for the different types of reptilian. The other Mech-suits were emptied, the clansmen temporarily released from their machines, and it didn't take them long to also enter the reptilian vessel in pairs. Put together with Tomas, who claimed distant kinship with her, Antonia cautiously walked along a mid-sized stretch of corridor, a torch in her hand.
"Can you imagine being here whilst the ship was flying?"
Antonia glanced at Tomas for a second before shaking her head.
"Do you mean would I want to be torn apart or should I think like a reptilian?"
"You know what I mean."
"I do and no. I haven't thought about it." Tomas hummed thoughtfully and Antonia could almost see inside his head. "I've had more important things to consider when it comes to the reptilians."
The pair paused at an intersection, their direction of travel decided upon seeing the torch-light of another pair. Their path took them to a set of buckled doors and it took some time for the pair to widen the existing hole so that they could pass. They found themselves in a small chamber, a beam of sunlight coming from a hole in the ceiling to illuminate the lonely chair in the room's center. Cabling extended from the chair, disappearing into the walls, and Antonia cautiously circled the chair, the arrangement somehow familiar to her.
"It's a control throne." Tomas' hushed words came as Antonia moved in front of the chair, the woman recoiling from the humanoid figure occupying it. "Is this why the Confederation dislikes us?"
Antonia studied the humanoid for a moment, noting that it was clearly related to the reptilians she'd been killing. Its eyes were wider apart than a human's, set above a definite snout that death revealed was full of sharp teeth.
"You know it isn't Tomas." Shifting her gaze away from the corpse Antonia slowly turned in a circle. "They dislike us because of the hold-overs from the old ways. They dislike us because we won't sign their precious Articles."
The Clans were fiercely proud of how they were the first to truly leave the home-world behind, planet-hopping to stay ahead of humanity's expansion until they ran out of worlds.
Apart from the control throne the room was devoid of anything else. With nothing visible in what was presumably the bridge Tomas glanced up, noticing faint scoring around the hole in the ceiling and pointing it out to Antonia.
"That was made before re-entry."
"You're wasted as a Mech-suit pilot." Antonia briefly glanced at the hole, the result of a bolt of energy hitting the reptilian ship's hull. "Captain Matthews, or indeed any of the fleet's captains, could use someone with your eye."
Tomas blushed at the praise and knelt to investigate the cabling.
"One of these must be connected to a computer core. Nothing else could handle the information needed to operate a starship."
"Perhaps." Suddenly restless Antonia reached for her communicator, giving the room a final cursory glance, and tuned the device to short-range broadcast. "I want everyone back to the dropships. We've done what we came here for."