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Roberts Space Industries

Serialized Fiction

Short Stories

ID:

17493

Comments:

19

Date:

February 26th 2020

Instrument of Surrender (Part Two)
By: Adam Wieser
Writer’s Note: Instrument of Surrender (Part Two) was published originally in Jump Point 4.6. You can read Part One here.

Crescent’s crew rushed to battle stations. Starmen, startled awake by the unexpected announcement of Tevarin enemies, now poured from the crew quarters. Engineers double-checked the ship’s power plants and battery bays to ensure every last bit of juice would be on line.

The bridge buzzed around Commander Wallace. Somehow this felt both familiar and completely foreign to her. She’d been in battles before, but never in charge of one. She’d seen firsthand the destruction of Virgil I — the plumes of smoke rising from formerly verdant fields, orbital bombardment craters the only remnants of what was once an emerging metropolis.

Commander Wallace had seen just how far the Tevarin would go to win this war. She couldn’t let the same fate befall Crion.

“Commander, a warning has been sent to Crion,” XO Coburn stepped to her side, personal data pad in hand.

“Good.”

“We’ve also dispatched a drone to the main fleet, though there’s a good chance they won’t receive it in time to make a difference.”

“That’s why we need to do everything we can to slow them down.”

XO Coburn nodded then continued, “One final update, sir. Prisoner Lime made it to the
brig. Paredes has been assigned first watch.”

Prisoner Lime, who called himself Hickory, had slipped to the back of Commander Wallace’s mind. What if Lime was right? What if he did have the Instrument of Surrender on his ship, and this war was finally over? Yesterday’s expected comm drone from command never arrived. It might be a coincidence; it might not. Lime was right about the Tevs being in system. There was a chance he was telling the truth about this too.

“Have we located his ship yet?”

XO Coburn scowled, “No, sir.”

“Let me know the moment they do.”

“Of course, Commander.”

Still, it wasn’t something she would risk the lives of millions on. People like Lime are always playing an angle; why else would he, a wanted criminal, flag down their ship for a ride?

“Sir, our scouts just reported that the Tevarin fleet has entered the asteroid belt.”

Commander Wallace crossed to a terminal and overlaid the system’s extensive network of early warning sensors on the hologlobe. Entering the asteroid belt meant they didn’t want to be detected. The moved aligned with the many after-action reviews she had read about other Tevarin attacks.

When the Tevs struck civilians targets, they did so with little to no warning. They preferred to move in quietly, strike hard and fast, then retreat before support appeared. When executed correctly, the results were devastating. Commander Wallace knew from Virgil there’s no feeling more helpless than responding to an attack that’s over before you arrive.

The Tevarin war machine fed on chaos and the flames of fear. Corath’Thal had even recorded a series of vids that often forced their way onto the spectrum through pirate broadcasts. The vids justified his guerrilla tactics and excoriated Messer for taking their homeworld away. Corath’Thal claimed that no Human world was safe until Jalan was under Tevarin control once again.

“XO Coburn, the Tevarin are sacrificing speed for stealth. That gives us a chance to quantum travel ahead and set up a defense of Crion.”

“It does, sir . . . ” His words had stopped, but it was obvious he had more to say.

“Now’s not the time to hold back.”

Coburn glanced at his feet, then proceeded, “Even if we rush to Crion, we’ll never be able to set up a viable defense. We don’t stand a chance battling them in open space. Their force is too big and their capital ship’s phalanx shield too strong.”

Her body temperature spiked as nervousness poured out of every pore. She was certain everyone on the bridge could feel the tension coming from her. This was not the calming presence the commander of a ship should project.

So Commander Wallace closed her eyes while her thumb and forefinger squeezed the bridge of her nose. There had to be another way, she thought, but what options were left?

Commander Wallace finally opened her eyes and looked at the hologlobe. Her eyes settled on the asteroid belt. She zoomed the hologlobe in on the belt, and watched the Tevarin fleet slowly making their way through it.

A thick silence settled over the bridge. No one dared to speak as everyone anxiously awaited orders.

Deeper in Crescent, Hickory lay on the brig’s bunk, counting. The kid guarding him had been pacing since the cell slammed shut. He moved up and down the hall with such annoying precision that it was hard not to count along. Every bleedin’ 25 seconds, he’d pass the cell window with that stern look on his face that Hickory attributed to overcompensation.

The kid had to know he had been saddled with a crap assignment. Every other soldier on the ship was gearing up to roast and ghost Tevs and here he was stuck guarding some Human. The young starman would never become a hero stuck watching the brig, or at least, that’s what Hickory needed to convince him. Anything to get himself more than 25 seconds of alone time. Hickory needed time to work.

Hickory glanced at the cell door. He had worked a few electromagnetic locks in his day. He’d first opened a cell door, a lot like this, on Olympus. In fact, many of these halls felt vaguely familiar. If his hunch was right and this was the same type of UEE ship that crashed into Ashana, it meant Hickory knew how to find the hangar.

Of course, he’d have to get out of this cell first. Then he could worry about how to get to the hangar discreetly as the ship prepared for battle.

Hickory swung his feet to the floor and sat up straight. Behind his back, his fingers dug inside his spacesuit’s right sleeve, and found the secret zipper hidden near a seam. Carefully, he opened the hidden pocket and withdrew a miniature multi-tool.

Wait, he had focused so hard on extracting the tool that he’d lost count. Suddenly, the kid appeared before his cell.

“Well, look who’s finally up.”

Startled, Hickory’s fingers fumbled with the multi-tool almost letting it fall from his sleeve. “Wanna be ready when the Tevarin arrive,” said Hickory as he arched his back and secured a grip on his multi-tool.

“Don’t you worry. They won’t be getting this far. Not with me and my mates in the way.”

“Seen a lot of action against the Warriors of Rijora, have you?”

The Marine nervously shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Yeah, well, what do you know about ‘em?”

“Can’t admit to fighting any T-vars myself, but they’ve never given me cause to.”

“You should be ashamed to call yourself a Human.”

“Don’t you worry, I’m far from sympathetic. I just don’t fight folks with everything on the line. They’re too desperate, unpredictable. You never know what they’ll do to survive.”

He paused for dramatic effect.

“So I’d grab more ammo if I were you. Cause if a few warbirds come barreling through the door at you, it’s not like I can help.”

The kid considered his position, then pivoted and paced with precision back down the hall. Hickory cursed under his breath. So much for talking him into leaving. Guess he’d have to go at the lock slow and steady.

Once again, the kid appeared, then stepped off down the hall. Hickory started counting as he silently crossed the cell floor to kneel by the door. His right fingers flipped out a small drill bit from his multi-tool. His left hand felt the sterile grey metal encasing the door’s large magnet. Its width was slightly smaller than his hand.

Hickory switched the multi-tool to his left hand, then pressed the drill bit into the middle of the metal casing. His internal clock hit 20. No need to test the limits first time out.

Hickory quick stepped to the bunk and sat with his hands behind his back just at 25. The kid arrived as planned. Hickory couldn’t help but smile as the kid’s nervous eyes glanced in his direction.

Then he was gone again. The multi-tool sliced into his spacesuit just under his left cuff line, exposing a small port that tapped the suit’s power.

Hickory plugged the multi-tool into the port then shuffled his hands behind his back. The kid came and went, but Hickory stayed seated, drawing a deep breath. Letting the multi-tool charge before continuing his escape.

Commander Wallace stared at the Tevarin fleet on the hologlobe. Their icon hadn’t moved for a while. Neither had the marker for their scout stalking the fleet.

“Starman Darsha, is our feed still live?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Contact the recon ships, see if they know why the Tevarin fleet is stationary.”

“Yes, Commander.”

While waiting for a response, Commander Wallace slowly advanced then reversed time on the hologlobe, watching the asteroid belt’s composition slightly change. New asteroid-free areas suddenly appeared or vanished as objects closer to the star orbited slightly faster than those near the outer edge. Then she saw something strange.

At first she thought it was a glitch. She reversed time on the hologlobe then played it forward. There it was again. Positioned too close to the waiting Tevarin fleet to be a coincidence.

A relatively straight gap through the belt.

Commander Wallace checked the time stamp. According to this, the belt would fall into this alignment in 45 minutes before vanishing again 15 minutes later.

“Starman Odorizzi, how accurate are these scans?”

“Uhhh . . . estimates show they are operating at 93% accuracy, sir.”

Commander Wallace’s gears began to spin.

“Commander?” Starman Darsha called from the comms station. “Our scout’s reporting that there’s no indication why the Tevarin fleet has come to a stop.”

Commander Wallace’s eyes returned to their icon.

A plan took form in her head. She finally saw a chance to engage the Tevarin on favorable terms.

“Starman Odorizzi, see this point here? In 44 minutes a gap will be opening there. Pull its precise coordinates.”

“Yes, sir,” Odorizzi responded.

“Helmsman Ayers, once Odorizzi’s done, get the Crescent lined up to quantum travel directly into that gap.”

Helmsman Ayers shared a nervous look with XO Coburn, then spoke cautiously, “Excuse me, Commander?”

XO Coburn quickly stepped to her side, “Sir, it might help to talk us through your intentions.”

Commander Wallace locked eyes with Coburn. They didn’t have much time to get her plan in motion. She almost reminded him who gave the orders aboard Crescent, but held back. She looked around the bridge. The rest of the crew avoided her gaze. She needed Coburn’s support now more than ever.

“In precisely 43 minutes, the varying orbits of the asteroids in this belt will align in such a way that a large gap will appear completely through the belt. Currently, the Tevarin forces are holding position near that area. We can only assume they’re waiting for this gap. Once it appears, they’ll maneuver into the gap then quantum jump onto Crion’s doorstep.”

A murmur spread among the bridge’s crew. Commander Wallace let the voices settle then continued, “We can’t let that happen. So here’s what we’re going to do. XO Coburn, order all of our scouts to rally near this gap immediately.”

“All scouts, Commander?”

Commander Wallace paused, then nodded. Hickory’s story was a long shot, and this Tevarin threat was real. The scout searching for his ship would be better utilized here.

“All of them. I want proximity interdiction mines placed on both sides of where the gap will appear, about halfway down. As the Tevarin approach, the mines will detonate, creating a wall of debris that will bring their ship to a stop. That’s our chance. The moment those charges blow, Helmsman Ayers, you quantum travel us into the back end of this gap. While the Tevs are occupied with what’s in front of them, we’ll sneak in behind and attack their stern.”

Commander Wallace scanned her crew. Helmsman Ayers locked eyes with Starman Odorizzi, who urged him on, “Commander, are you sure? The timing needed to execute a QT into a moving belt, not to mention the risk of stray asteroids, is problematic to say the least, if not dangerous.”

“Commander Wallace was not looking for opinions or excuses, Helmsman Ayers,” XO Coburn bellowed.

Helmsman Ayers’ stiffened. “No, sir.”

“Good. Now let’s get to work. We’ve got some Tevs to surprise.”

As the bridge came to life, XO Coburn stepped to her side. She met his gaze and felt the confidence and experience radiate off of him. It was exactly what she needed.
Coburn leaned in close and spoke in a voice only she could hear, “This better bloody work.”

Drahk and Tajhbind sat in their Jackal, running dark except for their scanner. They, along with the rest of the Tevarin scouts, were posted like sentries around the main Tevarin ship. All patiently waiting for the gap to appear so they could strike Crion.

Drahk quietly recited Rijorian verses while watching the scans. Tajhbind stared out of the cockpit, seemingly at peace. Drahk always wondered where Tajhbind’s mind went in quiet moments like this.

Everything was back to normal between them after Tajhbind convinced Drahk not to volunteer for the first strike force. Once settled into the Jackal, Drahk realized Tajhbind was right. His decision to volunteer for an assignment unsuitable for him was impulsive and clouded by emotions. He hoped he would be more thoughtful and patient in action.

As Drahk returned his attention to the scans, he saw a strange blip moving across the screen. Drahk increased the range of his scans and watched the blip weave around asteroids. It was certainly a ship and definitely not one of theirs. Those wretched Humans had finally shown themselves.

“Tajh, there’s something moving ahead. Let’s see what it is.”

Tajhbind cautiously piloted the Jackal in that direction. As they drew near, the blip slowly spun towards them. Drahk looked up to see a small Human ship circle from behind a large asteroid.

Tajhbind fired a salvo from the Jackal. The Human ship ducked away as the asteroid beside it was ripped to shreds.

“Come on,” called Drahk, almost instinctively. “Don’t let them get away!”

Tajhbind put the Jackal’s engines on full burn and careened around an asteroid after the ship. With each new twist and turn, Drahk adjusted the shields so they would be protected if the Human ship looped back to surprise them with a head on attack.

Ahead of them, the Human ship skillfully wove its path. Yet the longer they pursued it, the more Drahk wondered about the ship’s intentions. It hadn’t initiated another attack or even attempted evasive maneuvers to shake them. Instead, it seemed content to stay just out of effective weapons range while leading them away from the rest of their forces.

Tajhbind spun the Jackal around an asteroid to see the Human ship pitch up. Drahk’s eyes followed it, then returned to the scans to see two new blips before them.

“We’ve entered a trap,” Drahk called. He immediately pushed all shield power forward to withstand the blasts from the new attackers. The shield held, but would need time before regaining full strength.

Tajhbind sliced down, then pitched up and around an asteroid. The quick, efficient maneuver was enough put the Jackal on the tail of one of the ambushers. Without wasting a second, Tajhbind fired a missile and destroyed it. One ship down.

As Tajhbind spun them through a tight inside loop, Drahk saw one the remaining Human ships fall in behind them. He bolstered the stern shield then searched the scan for the other ship, not wanting to be ambushed again.

The Jackal’s cockpit beeped loudly. The Human pursuer had achieved missile lock. Drahk looked at their shield’s charge. It still wasn’t fully regenerated.

“Tajh, evade!”

The Jackal accelerated, then suddenly pitched up. Its wings rolled right until achieving a vertical alignment. Then barely passed between two asteroids. As Tajhbind slipped the ship between these two giant chunks of rocks and minerals, he dropped some chaff. The trailing missile exploded into the asteroids, saturating the area with a debris field that the Human ship could not avoid.

Drahk glanced at the scans to see the pursuing blip disappear, done in by damage from the debris. That left only one ship, but Drahk couldn’t find it on his scans.

“Where is it, Drahk?” an energized Tajhbind implored.

“I do not know.”

Tajhbind slowed the ship until it stopped. Drahk’s scans remained empty of enemies. Maybe the coward had run away, fully aware of its danger?

Drahk checked the shield strength and gave an update, “Shield is fully powered.”

Suddenly a signal sparked.

“Stern side attack,” warned Drahk as he redirected the shields to that sector.

The Human ship bore down on them from behind, both of its barrels blazing.

Tajhbind reacted instantly, pitching the ship’s bow up until it was flipped 180 degrees. They were now upside down from where they started. The two had done the maneuver so often that Drahk knew exactly when to shift the shields from front to back.

The moment the bow was flipped, Tajhbind unleashed hellfire. The two ships tore into one another’s shields. The Jackal withstood the onslaught while the Human ship’s shield was quickly ripped to shreds. By the time the Human ship realized it was in a losing battle, it was too late. It exploded seconds later.

Drahk and Tajhbind sat there silently for a moment. They had done it. They had survived.

“Time to return and report our encounter,” said Tajhbind.

Yet something wasn’t sitting right with Drahk. He checked his scans to see they had worked their way deep into the belt, but were still near where the gap would appear. Why would so many Human ships converge around here when the rest of the Tevarin forces were so far away? His time as a youth on Olympus had taught Drahk that it was always best to suspect treachery from Humans.

“No. We can’t go back,” Drahk said resolutely. “Not if we want the attack on Crion to succeed.”

Activity on the bridge stopped and every eye found Commander Wallace. After Starman Darsha reported that their three scouts were under attack, everyone had turned to the hologlobe. Together they had watched as those three blips disappeared, one by one. The entire bridge crew knew their fate, but none dared to say it out loud.

XO Coburn stepped forward, “Commander, how do you wish to proceed?”

“Have the proximity mines been set?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then we have only one choice. We go forward as planned.”

“But, sir . . . “ Coburn hesitated then continued. “We won’t have our scouts to confirm the Tevarin forces are in the gap.”

“It’s not ideal, but we’ll know they’re there once the gap opens and the charges detonate. Prep for quantum.”

Coburn didn’t move. None of the bridge crew did. Wallace looked around.

“I gave an order.”

Still nothing.

“I don’t need to tell you what those Tevs will do if they get to Crion. You’ve probably heard about it. Some of us have been unfortunate enough to see it in person,” she paused to scan the faces of her crew. “We find ourselves out of position and against superior numbers, so I’m not going to stand here and lie to you or promise you victory. We might die today, but it won’t keep me from fighting to save the millions of innocent people on Crion. Will it stop you?”

“No, sir!” Echoed in unison.

Across the bridge, her crew snapped into action. After a brief respite, Commander Wallace continued, “Now, in exactly three minutes, this gap will open, and the Tevarin will begin their march to destroy Crion. No matter what, those mines will still explode and the Tevarin will be slowed down. But the only thing that can truly stop them is Crescent. So . . . who’s ready to trap some Tev?”

A roar went up around the bridge.

Drahk and Tajhbind watched the gap slowly form before them. It was an elaborate celestial arrangement so peculiar it was hard not to watch in wonder. Yet Drahk wouldn’t allow himself to stare. Instead, he focused on his scans to see if more UEE forces were lying in wait.

Tajhbind had contacted the leaders to update them on the situation. Their superior had even congratulated them for their destruction of the scouts, and Drahk’s foresight to continue searching the gap.

Still, the lack of a further UEE threat puzzled Drahk. He almost suggested expanding the search deeper into the belt, but he held back on that suggestion. Instead he just wondered, what could three scout ships have hoped to do to stop an entire Tevarin force?

Suddenly, asteroids on both sides of the gap exploded. Shrapnel hurled into the Jackal on all sides, overwhelming their shields and striking their hull. The impacts sent the ship spinning wildly. Drahk held on for his life, hoping Tajhbind could regain control before they both blacked out.

Tajhbind cycled through thrusters until the spinning slowed and Drahk’s sickness abated. He checked the status of the ship’s systems now that he could focus. They had taken significant damage and were in desperate need of help.

Drahk accessed the emergency channel and broadcast a distress signal. Suddenly, a massive object filled the scanner’s screen. Drahk’s eyes grew wide. It could only be one thing.

He looked up to see a Human capital ship coming down the gap towards them. Still in disbelief, Drahk announced the Humans’ arrival across the emergency channel. Then desperately said, “Tajh, we must abandon ship!”

Drahk grabbed his personal propulsion device and unstrapped himself from his seat. With the shields down, it would just be a matter of jumping out the open back of the ship and then EVAing into the asteroids until help could be sent.

Suddenly, turret fire from the Human ship blanketed the space before them. Instinctively, Tajhbind turned the Jackal away from it, but the previous damage to the left wing was too much. It ripped off the hull and sent the ship into a tailspin toward the massive ship, flinging Drahk towards the back of the Jackal and eventually into space.

Once Drahk realized what had happened to him, he activated the thrusters on the personal propulsion device until he was under control. He searched the space around him, but there was no sign of Tajhbind. Just the sight of the wounded Jackal tumbling towards an impact with the massive Human ship, its damaged engines hurling it wildly out of control.

Hickory was one step away from escaping his cell. He had drilled a small hole in the metal case housing the door’s electromagnet, then carefully removed the power port in his left sleeve to expose the wires connecting it to the rest of his suit. All while the kid continued to pace the hallway none the wiser.

Hickory began the countdown in his head as he crossed to the cell door for hopefully the final time. He needed to reverse the polarity of the electromagnet so it would repel the door away from the armature plate built into the jamb. But he wouldn’t know which wire would do so until he tried.

The orchestration of this last part was essential. Hickory assumed opening the door would set off some kind of alarm. So doing it too soon would give the kid the chance to react. Yet, if he waited too long or chose the wrong wire, the kid could catch him in the act.

As his internal clock hit ten, Hickory had no more time to debate. He picked a wire and guided its exposed end into the drilled hole, then held it in place with his left hand.

The countdown hit five . . . four . . .

Hickory’s right hand activated as many of his suit’s systems as possible. Electricity buzzed through the wire and into the electromagnet. The kid appeared before the cell just as the door popped open and beeped loudly. The kid jumped back, surprised.

Hickory grabbed the door and pushed it open. The last thing he wanted was for the electromagnet to reengage with the armature. Suddenly, a shockingly loud alarm blasted through the brig, startling both Hickory and the kid.

Moments later, an explosion rocked the ship. Only Hickory’s hold on the door kept him from flying across his cell. The Marine was not so fortunate. He was flung down the hall, landing with a loud thud.

Once Crescent stabilized, Hickory glanced out of the cell to see the kid writhing in pain. Hickory hurried down the hall towards him. Seeing him coming, the kid struggled to raise his gun. Hickory kicked it out of his hand.

The Marine screamed in pain. Hickory couldn’t have him making any more noise, so he cocked his arm and knocked the kid out cold.

“Tajhbind!” Drahk helplessly called into his comms. Still holding the personal propulsion device, he fired its thrusters until coming to a stop.

Still and silent, Drahk stared at a debris field drifting away from the UEE capital ship. It was all that was left of the Jackal.

Even though Tajhbind’s fate seemed clear, Drahk was not ready to accept it, as doing so meant grappling with his own.

Drahk knew a rescue wouldn’t be possible from this position. He’d have to EVA into the asteroid belt and soon. The UEE capital ship grew closer every second.

Drahk felt himself drifting towards the ship, having entered its gravitational field. Slowly floating forward, he stared at the ship. It reminded him of home on Olympus. Sitting on the dunes as a kid, staring at its hulking hull half-embedded in sand, he’d always imagined what one would look like in space. And here it was.

In a way, he had come back home in the end after all. A sense of peace settled over him and a Rijorian verse filled his mind. Then he had an epiphany: he had been brought here for a reason.

Thrusters sparked on his personal propulsion device, shooting Drahk forward. He’d be building up a good deal of speed on approach. If Drahk had any chance of surviving this, from here on in, his thrusters should only be used to slow him down.
That is, of course, if the ship didn’t pick up speed and ram into him. Drahk doubted that would end well for him.

Commander Wallace gripped the railing before her. The charges had detonated but, besides the one ship that crashed into them, the Tevarin forces weren’t here. At least the damage from the impact appeared to be minimal.

“Find me that Tevarin capital ship immediately,” cried XO Coburn. “We need to know how much time we have before they’re on us.”

Coburn’s eyes cut across to Commander Wallace. She had never seen him so worried before.

Wait . . . if they quantum jumped in then they could just as easily quantum jump out. It would just be a matter of steering the bow in the other direction.

“Commander . . .” cried Starman Odorizzi.

Wallace looked at the hologlobe. Her heart sank into her stomach. It was too late.

The Tevarin had entered the gap behind them. Crescent was snared in its own trap, boxed in by a debris field on one side and the Tevarin capital ship on the other. Before Commander Wallace could say anything, the Tevarin’s phalanx shield flared to life, ready for a fight.

TO BE CONTINUED

End Transmission

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