Klaxons wailed everywhere. Evans stood up from his chair as a crowd of sailors ran past him down the hall. Well, Evans thought, I guess Rear Admiral Healy will have to wait to tell mhy he called me to the breifing room. No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than a loudspeaker added to the cahos: "Enemy ships have jumped into the system! Scramble all fighters! All captains and crew, report to your ships immediatly!" As Evans took down the hall, he ammended his previous thought: Assuming either of us survives this attack. Evans turned a corner, and was almost knocked off his feet. Clang! Clang! Clang! Someone shouted, "The Greyskins are shooting the starbase!" He sounded indignant, as if they had no buisiness shooting a space station. Evans turned another corner and joined the crowd he had seen earlier. They filed through one more door and into the docking bay.
Catwalks bridged the massive hangar, and dozens of ships floated in place, secured by mooring lines. Evans found the Barbados on one of the upper walks, and almost bumped into an engineer he didn't recognize as the starboard door to his ship opened. As he entered the bridge, he noticed many of the bridge crew were already aboard. To no one in particular he asked, "How many are on board?"
"One hundred and fifty out of two-seventy, sir!" Methesus ground out, turning every word into a furious hiss. Was he angry that they were under attack, or that the whole crew wasn't here? Evans didn't know, or care. If he dwelt on anything other than the attack, he was liable--hell, he was garenteed--to get himself killed.
"Ensign Methesus, full impulse. Get us out of the docking bay; we can't wait for everyone. Lt. Hernendes, bring all weapons online. Looks like we'll get to try out those thirty-milimeter cannons after all." The orders came out in a single breath, and in a voice that bore no argument.
Methesus made a sound like sand being poured on hot metal, and slammed one of his scythes on his console. Turning to the Thalan, Evans barked, "What is it?"
"The mooring lines are still attached," Methesus growled, his red insectiod eyes seeming to glow in anger.
As if to add insult to injury (and injury to insult), A Korx ship moved in front of the docking bay and began filling the hangar with weapons fire, making two ships collide into each other as they tried to evade the fire in the confined space. Evans cursed horribly, and just as he began to give the order to detatch the mooring lines, a shot from the Korx ship, still defiantly hanging in fron of the docking bay despit the fire it was taking, screamed overhead and struck behind the ship. The jolt rocked the Barbados and threw crewmembers from thier seats. "What the hell was that?" Evans shouted.
"They've taken out the docking controls! We can't detatch the lines!" Evans didn't know who spoke, but he recognized what was in the voice: despair. The Korx on that ship are probobly laughing at us right now, he thought savagely. Well, let's see them laugh at this. Turning to Hernendes he said, "Lieutenant, fire on the mooring lines with the thirty-millimeters." Turning back to Methesus he said, "Override the overload protocals on the engines. We're getting the hell out of the station." An alarm blared when the engines went all-out. The thirty-milimeters, meant for anti-fighter duty, chattered as they spat out streams of flame. One by one, the lines desintigrated under the cannons, making cheerful pop-pop-pop noises that sounded oddly like breaking glass. The Barbados, now free, surged forward with her plasma cannons blazing away at the Korx ship that was trying to beat a hasty reatreat from the docking bay's end. Evans's lips skinned back from his teeth in a savage grin: his blood was up, and he knew it. "Target thier bridge, maximum yield," he growled.
The Korx ship never had a chance. It was already damaged, having taken fire during its blockade of the docking bay. When the purple streams of light struck its bow, the bridge simply fireballed, spewing white-hot debris everywhere and was reduced to a burnt stub. No one could have survived. The remainder of the ship, now a directionless hulk, drifted away, and the Barbados exited the docking bay and entered the battle. "Ensign Methesus, re-engage protocals and return engines to eighty percent full power," Evans said, settling into his chiar. "We don't want to overtax the reactor."
Hundreds of fighters swirled around each other, dogfighting as capital ships jokeyed for firing posistions. "Target the nearest enemy ship," Evans said. He had cooled off some, and his mind was going from bloodlust to tactics. "Target identified: it's one of those Thalan cruisers the Greyskins bought," Lt. Hernendes announced. "Looks like it's tangling with an Assryian ship."
Evans nodded briskly. "Pursuit course; increase power to bow hull plating." Barbados dove after its target, which was twisting around an Asrryian cruiser, evading its foe's missiles and taking potshots with its cannons. "Target thier staboard cannon....fire!" The targeting was perfect; the Korx ship's weapon went up in flames. Realizing it was being double-teamed, it veered hard to satrboard and tried to escape.
But the Barbados was on its tail, and the Asrryian ship had the initiative. The latter vessel fired a barrage of photonic torpedos, the deadly missiles were on target this time. They struck the stern, near the engines, and blossomed into explosions. Fire ripped through the ship, buckling the hull and shooting out of cracks that werer forming all across the ship. A shot from the Barbados's plasma cannons finished it off.
"Sir, I'm getting a message from the Assryian ship," Hernendes announced. (Tendath wasn't on board; Hernendes would have to be the comm. officer.) "It's thier captain....she extends her thanks."
Evans couldn't help grinning. Leave it to Assryians to remember chivalry in the middle of a battle, he thought. The comic relief was gone in a flash; someone shouted, "Bombers incoming!"
"Evasive maneuvers!" Evans shouted. "Blanket those bastards with the thirty-milimeters!" The Barbados twisted and turned in a series of complex maneuvers, and the anti-fighter guns chattered as they spewed death at the attackers.
"One bomber down!" Hernendes shouted triumphantly. "Two more...and another! The last one's breaking---"
WHAM!! The bomb slammed into Barbados with a terrible racket. Sparks spewed from the lights, crewmembers were thrown from thier seats, and a few didn't get back up. "We've been hit on our starboard side," Hernendes annouced. "Decks A through H are reporting casualties and fire, and we're venting warp plasma."
"Reidirect plasma flow from the breaches, and activate anti-fire systems," Evans replied.
"Spawn of ra'kaggs!" That wasn't a shout, it was more like a scream. That it came from Methesus, and with such bloodthirstiness alarmed everyone, even Evans. "They're running away!"
"They're running away," Evans echoed, but with far less heat than his Thalan helmsman. The Korx ships that hadn't been destroyed were jumping out of the system with blinding flashes of light. Evans exhaled all the air in his lungs. The fight was over. Methesus was still hissing something under his breath when Hernendes spoke up: "We're getting a message from the starbase. It's being broadcast to all Allied ships in the system."
"Put it through," Evans replied.
A crisp voice said, "All Allied ships: due to the attack, all training exceriszes are cancelled until furthur notice, and no prisoners from this attack are to be taken. Repeat:do not take prisoners. Also, all significantly damaged ships are ordered to report to Docking Bay Seventeen A, while all other will remain on high alert until it is certain that another attack will not occur. That is all."
Evans nodded curtly "Go to the docking bay. We need repairs," he said.
The bridge crew said not a word as the Barbados made its way back to the starbase. They passed a cripled Korx cruiser, which was surrounded by Federation and Thalan ships, casually pounding it with thier weapons until it finally broke apart. Fighters prowled the wreckage, searching for escape pods. Sighing, Evans shook his head.
When they docked, everyone filed out of the ship, with slouched backs and glum faces. They met no congratulations or euphoria at victory.
A few days later, Evans learned that the captain of the Assryian ship he had saved--he never learned her name--was going to be replaced. When he asked why, he learned that she had refused to terminate the life support of an injured Korx prisoner when orders not to take prisoners had come down. You couldn't stay innocent, not in this war.
Hessarah nodded appreciatively. "Are you certain this report is accurate?" she asked the fresh-faced Director who had informed her.
"Yes, Your Excelency," he replied. He looked ready to bolt at the next instant, everyone was still shocked at her ordering Torren's execution.
Ignoring her meesenger's fear, she recited the report: "Three enemy ships destroyed, the starbase damaged, and training in that system cancelled until further notice." She spoke the last three words with relish. More so among Earthers than Korx, that was a less jaring way of saying, it probobly won't ever continue. "You may leave, Director Ussmak."
Her new second-in-command all but sprinted out of her quarters. But Hessarah thought she had been right in disposing of Torren. He had known full well about the Earther missionary who had been press-ganged, and he had lied to her about him.
She shoved the thought aside; there was a war to fight.