The Vĩnh Viễn accelerated away from the battle. The g-forces pushed Nalia back against the pilot’s chair. What am I doing? She thought. It had been years since she practiced in the ship simulators and her scores back then had not been impressive. Behind her, she could hear the marines murmur in the breaching pod. Alan, unconscious, had been strapped to a seat in there. All she could remember from their escape from the flagship was much shouting and warning klaxons going off. She managed to look at the tactical holo, which showed massive numbers of enemy indicators around them. Those representing the First Fleet disappeared one by one. Through fate or luck, they emerged unscathed from the conflagration at the flagship. Perhaps the stealth device worked on these foes, too.
Their luck ran out. Two of the smaller enemy ships headed on an intercept course, accelerating at high speeds, although they were still hundreds of thousands of kilometers away.
“Computer. Visuals off. All non-essential systems off. Divert all power to the engines,” Nalia commanded. She needed to get out as soon as possible. Back to Atranas and Miyashiro. In a too short period of time, a red warning light turned on, indicating that gravity shields had been hit. They held.
She checked the map. They were approaching a nearby electromagnetic storm the size of a gas giant. She remembered from scout reports that the discharges in the storm were powerful enough to disrupt sensors. It was their only chance. She burned into the crackling anomaly, praying that the storm would hide them from their pursuers.
Inside the storm, the tactical holo disappeared and reappeared intermittently as the sensors attempted to gain a reading of their surroundings. Shots flew past them, wide off the mark. Nalia made a little cheer. Her ruse had worked for the moment. The moment ended in seconds as the enemy ships closed in and their blasts started converging on the Vĩnh Viễn. I can’t keep this up, she thought, I must end this.
She fired the particle beams at the sphere ships when the computer got a lock, but they displaced themselves, making impossible movements. The computer attempted to determine their trajectories, but not enough information was available to make any prediction and the storm hampered it. The second pursuing ship fired. Its shot missed below them. Another burst went above them. She maneuvered the ship up, moving perpendicular to their previous direction.
Their hunters immediately displaced their positions and fired a barrage. The gravity shields went out. Another shot hit the ship. Nalia felt it rock and she almost fell out of the chair. The warning light on the viewscreen indicated that it had hit the engines. The spheres slowly moved to position around the ship as it began to spin out of control. Wait a minute, why aren’t they blowing us up? she thought. Then, the realization came to her. They’re trying to disable us! Pressing a button, she shifted power away from the engines. The Vĩnh Viễn continued its spin. The sphere ships fired another shot that shook the hull. Nalia directed enough power to short out one of the four particle beam mounts, hoping that with the aid of the storm, they would think that it had disabled the weapons. The enemy ships moved closer. Tendrils formed on their surface.
When she was sure that she wouldn’t miss, she transferred full power to weapons. They fired intense beams at near-lightspeed, catching the enemy by surprise. Nalia watched in wonder as the beams continued pouring into the ships. The seconds passed by as she shouted at the weapons to work. The enemy ships were sturdy, that much she gleaned. Before the Vĩnh Viễn’s weapons overheated, they finally penetrated the armor of the sphere ships, which exploded in clouds of gas and grid energy.
She let out a breath in relief. Restoring power to the engines, she oriented the ship back to Third Fleet’s location. The auto-repair drone began its work, but it would take a while to repair the beating that the ship had taken. She accelerated to a comfortable speed, leaving the battle far behind them. No other ships followed them.
Nalia looked behind her into the boarding module. Alan still sat, motionless. The marines stared at her, half of them stoically, the other half in wonder. She faced forward again and slumped back in her chair.
Third Fleet was still intact. Nalia watched as several ships moved out of formation and grid-jumped away. A comms chirp sounded from her console. Admiral Atranas appeared on the viewscreen. Her face appeared full of lines, as if she had grown much older in the past few hours. “Captain Sargire! We just detected massive energy signatures from First Fleet’s position. Are you and Alan all right?”
Nalia coughed. “I’m alright, admiral. Alan’s alive, but hurt. He needs medical attention, badly. We made it out, though.” She sat up straight and her eyes grew hard. “Admiral, Vendrian opened the Gate. Things… came through. They killed everyone. We’re looking at a full-scale invasion here.” She sat back, remembering the fiery death of First Fleet.
Atranas blinked. “I thought so. I never should have let you go.” She paused, listening to a report from one of her crew. “Nalia, there’s no time to waste. We’ve just detected them. That fleet is heading in this direction. Their numbers are far too high for us to take on.” She pursed her lips. “I need you back on the Yasothon. Put Alan in the medical bay there. Get back to Republic space. Warn everyone you can. I’ll send as many messengers as I can on this side. Hurry.” Nalia nodded.
The Vĩnh Viễn entered Third Fleet’s formation. In time, the external cameras showed the rounded outlines of the Yasothon. She guided the Vĩnh Viễn into the larger ship’s hanger bay, although a little fast for comfort. The crew greeted and saluted her with hearty cheers.
Drevin seemed especially glad to see her. “Welcome back, Captain,” he said. She ordered medical personnel to transport Alan to the med bay and she watched them carry him away in a stretcher. His eyes stayed closed and his breathing through the respirator sounded faint.
They walked through the corridors straight to the bridge. “It’s good to see you, too, Officer Drevin.” She smiled. He clasped his hands behind his back. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to skip the reunion celebration. We’re in a whole universe of shit right now.”
He nodded. “Understood, captain. We’ll do whatever you need.”
They entered the bridge, boots echoing on the metal floor. Her eyes adjusted to the bright lights. Everything looked as she left it. The crew busied themselves, readying the ship for combat movements. She ordered the gridspace drive readied.
“Hail coming from Admiral Atranas, ma’am,” the comms officer reported.
“Put it on the main viewscreen,” said Nalia, adjusting her uniform. The bumpy ride on the Vĩnh Viễn had not helped matters in that regard.
“Another from Colonel Miyashiro.” The comms officer inputted some commands in his console.
“Put him on Two.” Both of the officers appeared in front of her. Nalia could see crew rushing back and forth behind them. “I’m ready,” she announced.
Admiral Atranas spoke first. “Good, we detected several fleets at about 20 million klicks from us. We don’t have much time. You know what to do. I’ll try to draw them away.” Nalia’s eyes raised in alarm. “Don’t worry, I won’t fight them.” The admiral stared straight into her eyes. “You must get in contact with President Haines. Get her to order an evacuation.”
“An evacuation of what?” Nalia asked.
“An evacuation of every planet in the Republic.”
Nalia could hardly believe her ears. “Wait, shouldn’t we organize a defense? We can’t abandon everything just like that!”
“Our computers show the trajectories of the fleets to all the populated worlds we have. Every strategic simulation I ran for the past few minutes gives the same result. We will be overwhelmed. There’s too many of them.” Her voice was flat and final.
Miyashiro cleared his throat. “I must return to my own government, so we can also make evacuations. We’re lucky to have a colony ship already, but I must rescue as many people as I can.”
“I hope you will be able to get them all up out,” replied Nalia, not knowing what else to say. She knew there was no possible way to save everyone.
“We will gather as many as we can.” He paused. “And Captain Sargire? I promise I will return. Miyashiro out.” His face disappeared from the viewscreen.
Admiral Atranas sighed. “I’m going to be honest. We might be facing an extinction level event here. To destroy an entire fleet without warning… We should have been ready.” She stopped as her voice wavered. She returned to her commanding tone. “But enough of that. We’re out of time. You have your mission. I have every faith in you. Good luck, captain. Atranas out.” The viewscreen deactivated.
Nalia sat down on the captain’s chair. Despite the furor around her, she welcomed the familiar environs of the Yasothon. “Helm, take us to Carnarvon Station, max velocity,” she commanded. The ship accelerated, the gravity generators moderating the increasing effect of g-forces.
They arrived in record time. The engine wake could probably have been seen for light years. As soon as they arrived, the Yasothon opened communications with the station. The acting head found it hard to believe her when she told them of the incoming Consciousness fleets. She eventually convinced them to send a message to the rest of the Republic warning of the oncoming invasion. She warned them one last time to evacuate. She hoped they would listen.
Nalia thought for a moment. “Officer Sun, hail the physics lab on Danube,” she told the comms officer.
Mohe and Waya’s faces appeared on the bluescreen. “Nalia, what a surprise! And so soon, too!” exclaimed Mohe. “Although I shouldn’t be considering the amount of activity we see from the Ramanujan Expanse.” Waya waved cheerfully at her.
Nalia took on a grim tone. “Things are much more serious than you think.” She gave them a thirty-second version of what had happened to her and Alan.
Mohe and Waya said nothing as they processed what she told them. After a few seconds, Mohe spoke. “We believe you,” he replied. “I’ll order the evacuation immediately. I can get Carnarvon Station to cooperate. There should be plenty of ships. Where to take them, however, will be the real question.”
Waya interrupted. “No, let me do it. You’re the grid expert here. Maybe you can help Nalia find a way to stop this thing.”
Mohe looked at him. “Are you sure?”
Waya slapped him on the shoulder. “Of course! You’ll be much more useful out there than down here. I can tell you’re itching to help them. Go!”
Mohe pinched his nose and closed his eyes. “Ok, I’ll go. You’d better be alive when we’re done with this.”
“That sounds like a good idea. We’ll need your expertise for this situation. I’ll send a shuttle down to get you,” said Nalia, nodding to Officer Drevin. He promptly spoke into his communicator, ordering a ship down to the surface.
“I know you and Alan can do this,” said Waya in a low voice. “When he wakes up, tell him I said hello.” He gave her a small smile. The viewscreen went out.
The shuttle landed and came back in 15 minutes. With Mohe on board, Nalia ordered the Yasothon to the system’s tesseract. They would jump through several systems on a straight to Silesias. If they were efficient enough, they could get there in eight hours. She wondered how she would tell the President. She sighed. No time to think about niceties. As they approached the tear in space, the gridspace drive’s hum oddly filled her with anxiety. The invaders had come from the grid, after all. She pushed the thought to the back of her mind. The blood-rust energies surrounded the ship as it slipped out of the real.