Written 10 months ago
Saga: Destiny's Call
Illandra returned to her office from another long day of meetings with Euro Alliance committees. Her original task had been completed, now she worked to forge an understanding between the Alliance and their Nankaer refugees, the name they had adopted from their word for ‘us.’ It made Illandra smile when they would say, “We are us.”
She turned on her terminal to check the queue from Galilei. Her staff from back home would roll in anytime. This brief instance between her two daunting tasks was about the only break she ever got. The workload from the day prior had been light. She made her way through the stack of requests and set priorities for them to follow up on.
Halfway through the list, restless anxiety probed the edge of her telepathic senses. If Conner hadn’t left to meet up with family, she wouldn’t have sensed the flailing of emotions she detected. Illandra stood and approached the window to peer into the night sky. The sun had just set over the Euro Alliance capital city, but Illandra could see the channels lit by the city’s lights.
Illandra attempted to find the outpour of emotions. The embassy had a higher elevation than the surrounding buildings, granting her an open view of the surrounding area. Whatever she was looking for was prowling in the shadows, making itself uneasy to find.
Illandra tapped the window twice to bring up the building’s interface. She accessed a zoom feature to get a better view of the streets. She caught sight of some movement, her mind raced to figure out what the shape belonged to. She zoomed in to pinpoint the source. Like a ninja from one of Race’s movies, it stealthily avoided her. She commanded the interface to track it while scouring through the menus for a night filter. She found the setting just as the beast finally scurried through the light, granting her first look at the disfigured creature.
“No.” Her heart jumping up into her throat. “It can’t be. Not here.”
She ran back to her desk and threw open the top drawer to grab the Nankaer beacon she had been given. She clicked the call button and laid back in her chair. A second later, her spirit was floating through the air. Illandra grabbed one quick look at the window to find the hideous beast clawing its way across the side of a building. Taking off at mach speeds, she caught up to the creature before it could hide in another shadow.
“What are you doing here?” Illandra didn’t expect the beast to answer.
“Hello?” a voice echoed back. The host was still alive. Illandra remembered her past experiences with a Cenari host. When the Cenari found she was conversing with him, it lobotomized the host’s brain to silence him.
That day had haunted her for some time. Illandra often reflected on the incident, wondering if she could have come up with a way to talk to Corporal Simmons without alerting the Cenari. She had come up with a theory, now was the time to put it to the test. Dreading the contact, she reached out her ghost hands into the head of the beast and separated the consciousness of the captive man. She gave it a small tug and freed the man from his body, allowing his spirit to float free with her.
“Oh my god,” the man said, getting his bearings.
“You’re okay,” Illandra assured him. “I’ve freed your consciousness from your body so we can talk.”
“Thank you,” the man cried, attempting to pull himself back from the edge of hysteria. “Thank you so much.”
“Keep up,” Illandra said, tugging his spirit along as they followed the mutated through the shadows.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Illandra Page, I’m a senator from the United Galactic Republic.”
“Yes,” Illandra answered. “What type of question is that? Wait, were you expecting something else?”
“I mean, you’re floating. Mysterious powers.”
“Never mind,” Illandra shook him off. “What are these things doing here? How many are there?”
“I don’t know,” the man said. “They don’t talk much. There’s about two dozen here in the city. Four of the big ones and the rest are like that. Well, like me. They’re tracking something.”
Annette’s military experience knew the priceless value of that minuscule intel. “Listen, you have a choice to make. I can leave you like this, but you’ll erode over time. I can’t say how long. You’ll still be tethered to your body and won’t be able to go too far from it, but you won’t be a prisoner. Otherwise, I can put you back in there.”
“Like this!” the man spat before Illandra even finished.
“Fine,” Illandra said. “I’m going to let you go. You’ll need to focus on maintaining your form and projecting on your own.”
“Thanks again, lady. Is there anything I can do for you in return?”
Illandra hadn’t expected any payment, but she wasn’t going to let the opportunity go. “Do you think you could spy on them and pass along any information?”
“Gladly,” the man agreed.
“I’m up there,” Illandra pointed to the top of the embassy where her body resided. She saw the blue spirit of Meitralia approaching her window. She sent a mental ping to notify the alien of her location.
“I’m going to let you go now,” Illandra told the man. “Are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” the man replied, psyching himself up for the task.
Illandra let him go. He started to fall but quickly got a feel for flying.
“I received your signal,” Mertralia said, finally reaching them. Her face turned purple as she caught sight of the creature Illandra was following. “Blaflorat!”
“I’m sorry, Mertralia,” Illandra apologized. “The Cenari are here on Alpha Prime.”
“They’re tracking something,” the man said, hovering behind Illandra. “Some weird signal that was out of place. Okay, now that’s not human.”
Illandra looked back at the creature. It had stopped and was scanning the horizon like a predator tracking its next meal. Its face locked on to Illandra’s office.
Illandra and Mertralia looked at one another, panic striking them as they realized what it was. “The beacons!” They both screamed.
“Get your people to safety!” Illandra warned, jetting off back to her body. “And turn off that beacon!”
The interactive holo-centers weren’t incredibly spacious on the URS Allard. You could barely use them for sprints, no way you could actually get a decent run in. You could hardly use it to practice hand-to-hand combat. Most of the other shipmates used them for shooting ally, but if Annette would shoot anything, she wanted to do it from the cockpit of a space fighter.
The program on deck pit Annette against a highly proficient squad in the middle of an asteroid field. Piloting through rocks flying at high velocity was hard enough, but doing so with five other fighters trying to shoot you took things to an advanced level.
That’s where Annette shined. She had already removed three of the enemy fighters from the battle and was bearing down on the fourth.
“Player two joining the battle,” the holo-center’s system announced.
“What?” Annette asked.
Another ship rendered itself into the simulation next to her. A couple of curses flew over the radio as the new fighter lurched around for stability. Annette commanded her vessel into a barrel roll to avoid colliding with the inexperienced pilot and fired at the fourth ship. She hit the port engine and sent it crashing into a nearby asteroid.
She checked her scanners for the last combatant; it was approaching fast from the front.
“You call this fun?” Zain’s voice came over the intercom.
“No,” Annette said. “This is fun.” Annette strafed her ship in a diagonal motion to bring it under Zain. She then engaged an upward thrust into the bottom of his fighter, sending his ship off course. She had planned it perfectly. As Zain screamed for control, the last enemy rounded the sizable asteroid and collided with Zain’s ship in a fiery explosion.
“Simulation complete,” the system announced.
The space outside the ship deteriorated to reveal the dullish blue of the holo-center. Annette released herself from the chair and walked out the back of the virtual fighter and into the lower deck of the URS Allard.
Zain stood in the hallway waiting for her, a savage snarl on his face. “Not cool.”
“Why are you interrupting my simulation?” Annette asked coldly. She had been avoiding them since they got back from New Vegas. The news feeds she had seen had left her feeling betrayed by her fellow teammates.
“I wanted to know why you’re avoiding us,” Zain said, throwing his practice helmet into a nearby compartment.
“Do I really have to explain it?” Annette scolded him with her eyes.
“Yes,” Zain encouraged. “We’re not mind readers, you know.”
Annette took a deep breath to calm herself. “Do you have any idea how much news coverage there was for Race’s first public appearance since his resurrection?”
Zain busted into laughter. “Oh my goodness,” he said, holding his gut, “how was it?”
If Annette had the slightest control of her powers, she would have thrown one of her newfound fireballs at him. “I saw the vids from Rikki-T.”
“They were amazing, weren’t they?” Zain continued to laugh as he pulled them up on his arm unit. “I saved the good ones. That woman is certified crazy, right?”
Annette bit the inside of her lip while clenching her right fist. She started to slowly count down from five in her head as she debated whether to slug or leave the brute.
“This is my favorite,” Zain said, pulling up an image of Rikki in a towel. “Not sure if I’ve found our hero’s limit yet. Duty calls.” He poorly imitated a woman’s voice.
“Three,” Annette mentally counted.
“Think of how furious she’d have been if she’d known Race was hiding under the bed the whole time.”
Annette’s anger evaporated. “Wait. What?”
“Yeah, Race jumped under the bed before she got into the room. When she couldn’t find him, she staged all these posts.”
“What about the parties when they were together?”
“That was all real, unfortunately. The President called and ordered him to hang out with her, something about using her media following to leak fake Cenari reports. We had to get Race pretty drunk just to smile around her. That boy was so blitzed, I don’t think he even knew who he was sitting next to. Of course, that led us to another predicament. When we got back to the hotel, he was so drunk that she was going to take advantage of him. I had to clock him in the back of the head to fake passing out.”
Annette had heard the medical report from Tenaway. “The concussion.”
“I didn’t hit him that hard,” Zain defended.
“So, nothing happened between Race and Rikki?” Annette’s heart refueled with affection for Race.
Zain grabbed his chest in shock. “Is that what this is all about?”
Annette’s guilt held her tongue back.
“Girl, we just got you two together. You think we’re going to let your man do anything foolish like that? You know we got you, girl.” Zain beat his chest twice, signaling his support.
Annette grasped her face to hide the embarrassment for the lack of faith in her teammates. “I’m such a fool sometimes.”
“It’s okay. I forgive you. Just give us a little kiss right there.” Zain stretched out his neck and tapped his exposed cheek for her.
There had never been such an open opportunity by her teammate, and the chances it would ever present itself again was tiny. She swung her hand and connected with the exposed face.
Zain reeled back in shock as he grabbed his red cheek. “Ouch! What was that for?”
“That’s for giving Race a concussion,” Annette claimed, defending her action.
Zain took a deep breath and rolled his eyes. “Fine, I guess. Besides, it’s Bencie you need to worry about. Race couldn’t stop talking about how she grabbed his butt while they were getting holos together.”
“Thank you.” Annette gave Zain a quick hug. She took off to find Race to patch things up with him.
She made it halfway down the hall when a ghost materialized in front of her. Annette grabbed her chest to keep her heart from jumping out of it.
“What is it?” she asked the apparition.
“How close are you?” Illandra panicked.
Annette did some quick calculations in her head from the last time she was on the bridge. “We’re a couple of days out. Why?”
“The Cenari are here,” Illandra informed her. A wave of images rushed through her head as Illandra dumped the recent events. “They’ve found the Creators. They’re coming for us.”
Annette cursed. If she hadn’t been preoccupied with her imaginary betrayal and combat simulations, she would have been opened enough to experience it firsthand. She might have even been able to accelerate the ship to get them close enough to be of assistance. “I’ll find Race.”
Illandra’s ghost vanished back to her body.
“What happened?” Zain followed her, overhearing one side of the conversation.
Annette sprinted to the nearby ladder and started to ascend to the higher levels, Zain on her heels. “Illandra found a colony of the Creators on Alpha Prime, and the Cenari just discovered them.”
“That whole planet is about to become a warzone,” Zain concluded.
“Exactly,” Annette acknowledged. “Where’s Race?”
The travel ways were eerily void as Illandra, her friends, and the guards ran down the streets of the capital city.
Illandra’s telepathy caught a group of people hiding in a nearby store. “Over here,” she yelled, doubting they could hear her over the blaring sirens. “We’re heading to the bunkers, follow us.”
“We can’t stop for every group of civilians,” the commander of their guard shoved her forward.
Illandra didn’t know what came over her. She turned and gave the large man a push back, barely causing him to budge. “Every civilian you leave behind will be an infected Cenari out to kill us in an hour.”
The commander looked at the squad, remembering the footage Illandra had shown him. He turned back to his team. “Spread out,” he called. “Check the buildings for civilians, call for them to follow. Do not enter, do not engage, and do not fall behind.”
“Aye, sir,” the men answered, fanning out to check the buildings on each side.
The sounds of the sirens made it hard for Illandra to focus her powers, but she did her best to urge the neighbors to follow. Her group had grown by nearly a hundred people in a half dozen turns, and they still had a long way to go.
“This way,” came a thought from Mertralia, accompanied by a map with directions to a nearby Nankaer shelter.
Illandra was glad she had thrown her collar on Conner, there was nothing to hold back her powers.
Illandra redirected the group with the map she had been given. Illandra thanked Annette for encouraging Illandra to keep up a fitness routine, or she’d be out of breath like many of her peers. They continued through the abandoned city for another twenty minutes before arriving at the hidden entrance.
“We’re here,” Illandra signaled.
The street shifted as a part lifted up to reveal an underground tunnel. Illandra waved people through, rushing them to safety.
A loud boom echoed overhead. The vibrations rushed down Illandra’s arms, leaving a trail of goosebumps. She looked to the sky to see the pieced together ship of the Cenari coming into orbit above the city. A knot formed in her throat. She hurried the remaining civilians through the passage. More booms echoed, and soon there was a steady tick of them. Illandra took one last look at the sky before entering the tunnel and signaled Mertralia to close it. The Cenari invasion pods had started to rain down with their trails of fire as they blazed through the atmosphere.
Illandra yelled encouragement as she pushed her way back to the front of the group, continuing to travel toward the end of the long tunnel. When she got there, she found one of the soldiers aiming a gun up at a blue alien’s face.
Illandra put her hand on the soldier’s shoulder, using her powers to ease him. “Don’t be rude to our hosts.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the soldier said, lowering his weapon.
“Mertralia invited us,” Illandra telepathically informed the guard.
The guard mentally called out for approval of their entry. The thoughts that returned were distasteful and triggered a sour taste in Illandra’s mouth, but they granted them shelter.
Illandra spent the next several hours speaking with the Nankaer leadership, mostly defending Mertalia’s decision to help them and then thanking them for it. When she had run the circle more times then she could count, Illandra took a break to check on the people.
A quick lap found the people stable, but understandably uneasy. Illandra took a seat on a storage container to gather her thoughts. It wasn’t long before Conner found her.
“How are you holding up?”
Illandra sighed. “I’ve been better.”
Connor took a seat on the neighboring container. “You’re doing really well,” he encouraged her. “I see why Anthony has such high hope for you.”
Illandra laid back on the uncomfortable container. “I’d give anything to have him here now.”
There was a short silence as they waited for their fates to be decided.
“So… They’re blue?”
“Think how weird we must look to them, not being blue,” Illandra countered, smiling.
“Never thought about it like that,” he returned her smile. Using his thumb, he lifted the collar around his neck. “So, can I take this off yet?”
“No,” Illandra shrieked, pulling his collar over the device to hide it. “It’s their tech, they’re not supposed to know we have it.”
“Well, why do I have it?” Connor complained, helping her hide it. “What’s it do?”
“Their race is psychically connected. That collar dampens all psychic powers.”
“And why did you have me put it on?”
Illandra caught a blue warrior coming their way. “I’ll tell you later. Shh.”
Connor did his best to look natural with his jacket pulled bulkily around his neck.
“Mertalia would like to speak with you,” the alien stated, holding his hand to his chest in their customary salute.
“Thank you,” Illandra responded, getting up.
“Is something wrong with your friend?” the alien asked.
“Nothing,” Connor stated. “It’s just a little cold in here for me.”
Illandra waved at him to be quiet as she urged the guard to lead her to her hosts. “Is there news?”
“I errored in having you come here,” the blue alien apologized, hanging her head in disappointment. “The Cenari have overwhelmed the planetary defenses. It seems they’ve discovered our presence, and they’ve diverted much of their forces here to assault the base. I’m afraid that in bringing your people here, I’ve doomed you all to share our fate.”
Illandra’s heart sank to her stomach, where she tried not to vomit it back up. When would she ever catch a break? “You couldn’t have known, and your heart wouldn’t let you have done otherwise. I’ll have our soldiers ready to stand and fight.”
“Good,” one of the Creator men said, punching his hand. The Creator’s golden armor was decorated with two golden arcs coming up behind his head, signaling his high rank. “If this is to be our last day, let us stand with your warriors and take as many plagued as we can together.”
The light in the room changed to a ruby color as alarms blasted.
“They’ve breached the outer tunnels,” a Nankaer woman explained from a nearby terminal.
“Send me your warriors,”the war leader said, turning to gather his own troops. “Take your civilians to the back.”
Illandra met the commander halfway to the refugees. She directed him to follow the Nankaer general as she shuffled civilians toward the back quarters of the underground fortress. When they were secured, she returned to the front lines where the soldiers were preparing their defenses.
“Give me a weapon,” Illandra requested.
“You need to get back with the civilians, Senator,” the commander ordered.
“The Cenari don’t care what I am,” Illandra stated. “And I have combat experience.”
“The little one is feisty,” the blue commander said. “Here, take my handheld. I would rather take these beasts with my blades.”
Illandra took the golden sidearm from the Nankaer general. While it fit comfortably in the alien’s single palm, Illandra had to use both hands to stabilize the weapon.
A scratching noise made itself known at the base’s entrance. Illandra knew the source; the Cenari had made their way through the tunnels. It was joined by many more, the metallic scratching a roar of unease.
The blue general turned to his people, projecting his thoughts out among the room. “Long have we stayed in the shadows, fearful that this day would come. This plague is our creation, and will most likely be our end. We have lost many along the way. Today, on what may be our last day, we have been given an opportunity none has had since Tranagra at the Battle of Zof’larg. To take as many of these monsters with us to the afterlife as we can. Ready yourself, my brothers! Tonight, the Plague comes to feast on us, but we are shadows no more! By Alarion’s Light! ”
“By the light of Alarion!” the several hundred aliens yelled back. Many activated their wrist blades, sending a steady humming sound echoing through the command center.
The human security officer turned to his soldiers. His speech was less formal and to the point. “You heard him, men. If they’re coming for a feast, let’s give them indigestion.”
“Hoorah!” the soldiers returned their custom greeting.
The alien commander protectively hovered over her like a guardian. “Stay near me, tiny one. I will keep you safe for as long as I am able.” He flung his arms to send a blade of light from each fist. “I have but one regret. I wished to behold the might of the Run’hara before I left this world.”
Illandra fought to keep it together, bracing the oversized weapon she had been given and readying it for the battle. “Where are you, Race?”
Illandra’s question was answered by the lurching of the entire room. Everyone braced themselves, trying to keep from falling.
“Their ships must be targeting us from above,” the commander of Illandra’s guard surmised.
If that was true, they really didn’t stand a chance.
“The Cenari have almost always sought to capture their prey, an attempt to gain more hosts,” the blue alien countered. “Maybe they have finally decided to end our conflict.”
The room lurched again. Everyone barely gathered their footing when another one struck. One final crash brought the ceiling down. A cloud of dust encircled the room. The defenders shielded their faces from the rubble that spread to occupy the chamber.
When it settled, Illandra looked toward the center of the rubble. Two shadows stood defiant in the middle of the clearing.
Annette entered through the door to find Race waiting in the center of the bridge. His face bore the scowl of trouble, his senses must have picked up the danger she carried.
“What is it?”
“The Cenari have found the Creators on Alpha Prime,” Annette warned.
Race quickly turned to the ship’s pilot. “Elrick, how far out are we?”
“We’re still about two and a half days out, sir,” the young man behind the navigation panel answered.
“Blarg,” Race cursed. He reached over to his chair and tapped a command. “Allard to Major Jenson.”
“Acknowledged, Chief,” the voice of their commanding officer came over the ship’s comm. “What’s going on?”
“We have a situation, sir,” Race informed him. “Can you meet me in engineering?”
“On my way,” the major reported.
“Larson, you have the bridge.”
A young man in the back stood and headed for the central station. “Aye, sir.”
Race sprinted out the door with Annette and Zain right behind him. They quickly navigated the Allard’s corridors to the engine room, the major was already waiting patiently for them.
“Sitrep, Chief,” The major ordered.
“The Cenari are on Alpha Prime. They caught evidence of a hidden Creator colony and are about the wipe them out along with half the planet.”
“Well, that can’t be good,” the major shook his head. “We’re too far out to offer any type of support. I hope there’s some good news?”
Race took off the top of his uniform and took up a position between two of the engine chambers. “Illandra once ripped a hole in space to save me; I’m not going to leave her to die.”
“You’re not going to try and rip another hole, are you, Chief?” The Major looked worried.
“No, sir,” Race eased him. “I don’t fully understand the physics of how she did it. Even if I did, I doubt I could make a breach large enough for the ship to go through. Not to mention the possible damage to space in the process. I have a different idea.”
“What’s that, Chief?” The Major asked.
“This ship incorporates Creator tech. All Creators have psychic abilities, and most of their tech is either fueled by psychic powers or can be enhanced by them. I’m hoping there’s enough integrated into the Allard that I can rapidly boost us there. If I’m lucky, I can get us there quick enough to make a difference.”
“You can do that?” Annette was shocked by the very idea.
“Yes, but I might also have to hold the ship together so it doesn’t fall apart. It’s going to be a little touch and go to even see if I can do this safely.” Race turned to Zain. “Gunny Amyas.”
Zain jumped to the front. “Yes, sir?”
“This is going to take a lot of my energy, and I can’t pass out. Request Medical Chief Tenaway issue an adrenalin kit. After that, get to the armory and start powering up everything for an attack.”
Zain turned to the major for approval.
“Ask her to come down here and monitor the Chief,” Major Jenson added, sending Zain off on his mission.
“Major, Gunny, you’re going to want to get to the bridge. If this works, we’re going to be flying right into a warzone, and we need to eliminate the air forces before breaking the atmosphere for a landing.”
“You sure about this, Chief?” the major asked. “What about when we get there? As advanced as this ship is, I doubt we can take on a whole Cenari fleet.”
“I have a plan for that as well, sir,” Race assured him. “I promise I’ll go slow. Only what I can safely do and the ship can safely stand. Have Commander Trent monitor the ship's integrity. Any problems, and we bail.”
“Very well,” the major conceded, turning to leave.
“I’ll be right there, sir,” Annette told her commanding officer.
The Major nodded and left the two in the engine room.
Race was taking deep breaths, preparing himself for the upcoming task.
“I’m sorry I’ve been avoiding you the past couple of days. Zain let me know what really happened back in New Vegas. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”
“He didn’t tell you about Bencie, did he?”
“We’ll talk about it later. I just want you to promise me something before we do this.”
Annette slipped her hands around his waist, bringing their bodies together. “That we’ll survive this.”
“Of course,” Race gave her an innocent smile. “Most of this rests on your piloting skills, and I have faith in you.”
“Good, you still owe me that date.” Annette tilted her head up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll do my part if you do yours.”
“I could break the laws of physics for that,” Race teased.
“Oh, stop,” Annette chuckled, slapping his chest playfully.
Annette let go of Race as she left for the bridge. He placed his hands palm down in front of his chest and took a couple of deep, meditative breaths. Race stretched out his arms toward the ship's engines. When he opened his eyes, they were filled with the blue flames of his powers.
“Go,” his voice echoed through the haul.
Annette ran for the ship’s command center. As she entered, Elrick bounced over to the copilot seat so she could have the main controls.
“How are we going so fast?” Elrick whispered, pointing to the pilot’s console panel.
“Experimental tech,” Annette whispered back, loading her profile into the control dashboard.
“What’s our new ETA?”
Annette looked at her readings. “Down to one day, sir,”
The major activated a communication channel to engineering. “Commander Trent?”
“This is a little unusual, sir, but I do not see any signs of danger.”
“Fair enough,” the major acknowledged. “Medical Chief Tenaway?”
“Patient is stable,” she responded.
“Who’s the patient?” Elrick whispered to Annette.
Annette waved him to be silent.
“All systems reporting good, Chief. Want to try giving her a little more?”
“I was just getting started, sir.” Race’s voice echoed over the ship’s communication system.
There was a slight vibration in the ship as the bridge crew exchanged uneasy glances. A moment later, the vessel stabilized along with their fears.
“I think I’m getting the hang of it,” Race’s voice echoed once more. “Here we go.”
“Adjusting ETA now, sir,” Annette replied. “20 hours… 17 hours… 12 hours... 8… 3… 28 minutes, sir.” Annette fought to keep her mind on the task. The Allard was already the fastest ship in the galaxy, but she was setting speed records that wouldn’t be broken for ages. The crew of the URS Allard were going to be the fastest people in the universe’s history, and she was driving. The very thought made her blood pump with excitement.
“That boy never runs out of surprises,” Major Jenson mumbled. The major activated the ship's communication systems. “This is Major Jenson. We’ve received word of a Cenari attack on Alpha Prime. Given we are still far out, we’ve activated some of the ship’s experimental systems to reduce the time. We expect to be there within the next half hour. The planet is already under siege, and I have no idea what the situation will be when we get there. I need everyone to report to their battle stations and be ready for war as soon as we exit slipstream. Jenson out.”
For the next half hour, everyone sat anxiously waiting for the battle to come. Major Jenson cycled through the different stations every five minutes to ensure they were ready and that the ship was still maintaining its integrity under the strain of Race’s powers.
“We’re approaching our exit point,” Annette stated, her dashboard showing two minutes remaining.
Race’s distorted voice came over the comms. “I’m going to have to release this slowly, I don’t know what coming out of slipstream will do at this speed.”
“Understood, Chief,” the major acknowledged.
The destination time on Annette’s dashboard slowly climbed back up to the five minutes and thirty-four seconds mark.
“All yours,” Race informed them.
“Five minutes,” Annette called, synching her countdown with the forward ship display.
“All hands, battle stations,” the major ordered. “Sound the alarms.”
The red emergency lights started to slowly pulse, informing the crew that the time had come.
When the timer reached zero, Annette canceled the slipstream drive. The ship exited the purple soup to come out in the black space. Before them was the capital of the Euro Alliance. Orange flames covered the surface, looking like embers from their view in the sky. Surrounding the capital was nearly a hundred Cenari junkyard ships and the debris of the Euro space fleet.
“Eighty-seven Cenari vessels,” Henry called from the combat station. “I’m not reading any active planetary defenses.”
Annette’s heart sank in her chest. Even with a precog at the battle command, there was no way her little ship would be able to take on that whole armada.
“Well, let’s see what this little ship’s got,” the major called. “Keegan, I don’t have to tell you how to fly your ship. Straum, target the nearest Cenari vessel and light it up. Let’s see if we can at least distract a couple of them and pull them out.”
“Aye, sir,” Annette and Straum called together.
Annette programmed a route to swing by the nearest group of ships. She boosted the engines and kicked the Allard into high gear.
As they pushed by the first ship, the energy weapon shot out the side canons and hit the side of the Cenari vessel. Nobody expected to see the ship explode from the first shots.
The major was pleasantly surprised. “What happened?”
“Sir, whatever power was boosting our engines is now boosting our weapons and shields,” Henry explained.
Commander Trent's voice came over the comms. “Hey, Major. You know that thing you had me working on that we pulled from the Cenari ship? Well, the Chief came by and helped Gunny Reece and I tie it into the ship’s core. Chief Allard says it should be draining power from the Cenari fleet and boosting our own weapons and engines. How’s she look?”
It took a second for the major to compute what the change had meant for the battle. A slight smile crept to his face. “Well, that changes everything. Clear the line, team.”
“Aye, sir,” the bridge crew yelled out together. The dread they had been facing was now replaced with the confidence of an assured victory.
Annette changed the course to intercept as many ships as possible. Henry adjusted the firing range behind her. With a single pass, they purged half the Cenari fleet from the sky in fiery explosions.
It also gained them the attention of the rest of the fleet. Luckily, it was hard to corner a ship in three-dimensional space, especially one as quick and nimble as the URS Allard. Annette navigated the ship around every corner that gave them an advantage while Henry struggled to fire on the staggering number of targets she presented him with. When a group attempted to attack them from the rear, Annette pulled the ship into a vertical one-eighty and put the enemies in the weapon’s sites.
In roughly twenty minutes, the space over Alpha Prime was clear of Cenari.
“That’s the last one, sir,” Henry stated as they annihilated the last of those fleeing to escape the counter-attack.
“Any more on the long-range sensors?”
“No, sir,” Henry answered. “Looks like they caught word and are pulling back.”
The Major switched his chair’s holo display to show feeds from below the ship. “What’s the situation on the surface?”
“Ground troops are spread out, a large portion of Cenari troops are hitting one base. They’ve breached the underground tunnel system.”
“Keegan, hand over the helm to Elrick and get to the armory. Elrick, plot a course to bring us into the atmosphere above that outpost.” The major entered commands into his chair’s terminal. “Arm the support cannons under the ship, we need to clear an LZ. Alpha team, prepare the power armor for deployment.”
Annette saluted her superior as she left the bridge. The adrenaline from the space battle still coursed through her veins, rushing her to the armory in no time. She entered to find Zain, Konway, and Tso already in their mechs, getting them ready for battle. She flung open a locker and grabbed the combat suit she would need for the thinner atmosphere.
Annette had just zipped up the flight suit when Race entered the room. His eyes no longer danced with the blue flames of his powers. She was busy admiring them when the announcement came over from the bridge.
“We’re entering a safe ejection altitude for ariel equipped armors in one minute.”
Annette panicked, she hadn’t even started the boot sequence on her armor yet. Fastening the last of her suit, she leaped across the armory to trigger the ignition process.
A green light lit up for Tso, who had reclaimed his flight suit. He pulled the release lever, and his power armor slid out the bottom of the ship.
Race made his way down the armory hall, Annette figured he would pick up one of the remaining armors. He stopped next to the empty chute Tso’s mech had left behind. He turned back to the rest of the team and lifted his right hand to place two fingers on the forehead of his helm. “See you on the ground.” Race finished his salute as the blaze picked back up in his eyes. He leaned over into open hatch and fell out of the ship.
Everyone in the armory froze in shock. It was Zain that was first to regain himself. “Did he even have a gravity-chute?”
Annette’s neck cracked from how fast her head spun to check the emergency chutes. None were missing. Her legs ran faster than her mind. She threw her helmet on and locked it into place. Grabbing a chute from the bay, she threw the straps over her shoulders. Before she regained enough sanity to realize what she was doing, she jumped out the bay behind Race, falling from the sky.
“This was probably a bad idea,” she scolded herself. It was too late to change her mind. At least she had been smart enough to grab something for that sudden stop at the end.
Annette examined the sky below to find Race. Besides the sporadic fires and a few pillars of smoke, the view of the monolithic surface was amazing. There was no time to enjoy it. She picked up Race about three hundred meters below her. His arms and legs were spread in a star pattern to control his descent.
She could catch him.
Annette tapped the side of her helmet to trigger the comms. Straightening her body and pointing her head down to reduce drag, she accelerated toward him.
“I know some people say it’s crazy to jump out of a perfectly good aircraft, but not even grabbing a chute?”
Race looked back over his shoulder to find her gaining on him. The smile he gave her nearly made her mad. His combat suit triggered the glide function, growing wings between his arms and legs, slowing his descent even more.
Annette triggered the same function in her suit as she approached him. Race grabbed her hands to join their free fall. Annette had hoped the first time they held hands would have been on their date, this hardly qualified.
Annette tried to contact Illandra with her mind. Illandra was so preoccupied with the events going on around her, that she couldn’t even get a conscious thought to her. The best Annette was able to do was get a bearing on her position.
Annette released one of Race’s hand to point to the area crawling with Cenari just below them. From the sky, it looked more like a colony of ants crawling on their hill.
Race shook his head, his flame aura leaving trails even through his helmet. “Of course she’s in the middle of all that. Stay close to me when we get down there.”
“Where else would I go?”
Race broke their grasp, and she moved to position herself behind him. Annette wrapped her arms tightly around Race’s chest and strapped him into her gravity-chute. Race pushed out with his right hand and flung out a crushing wave of force with his powers. The ground below them trembled, several Cenari below them were crushed from the tremendous amount of pressure. Race repeated pounding the surface four more times, decimating the surface forces of the Cenari.
The final shock from Race broke the ground and opened a hole in the surface several layers deep. The hole filled with debris from the collapse. Annette triggered the gravity-chute, causing it to distorted the effects of gravity so they couldn’t feel the jerking motion of their rapid deceleration.
The bubble popped as they approached the surface, letting them fall the rest of the way down the hole. Annette landed surprisingly easy at the bottom.
She hit the release on the gravity-chute to free her from Race. As she landed, she spun around to be back to back with Race and face whatever came at them from the shadows. Race’s fists charged with the electricity of his powers. Annette triggered her new abilities to ignite her fists in unison. They were in for a fight.
“These people are under my protection,” Race’s voice echoed through the clouds. “I will not let you harm them. Return to the shadows, Plague.”
Howls of defiance bellowed from beyond the dust cloud. Race raised his hand toward the sounds of the Cenari. A ball of energy consolidated inside his hand. Annette mirrored Race, gathering a molten mass of fire in her hand. Together, they flung the firey energy toward the monsters. The force of the blast evicted the dust from their surroundings, as well as chunks of the advancing monsters.
“Have Illandra link us,” Race warned her.
“It sure took you two long enough,” Illandra’s scolded.
Annette became aware of the events unfolding around her; a sign she was gaining access to Race’s powers. She saw the attacks before they happened, allowing her to give the leaping Cenari a face full of fire.
The remaining Cenari swarmed them from the tunnels. Race’s abilities told her where to focus her powers and coordinate their attacks. The advancing army had to choose between death by fire or being shredded by electric fields. When several of the Cenari massed together, Annette would shoot out a large column of flames at the gathering mob. Race would place one of his force fields to catch the inferno and spread it out to those that might have missed the original blast.
Annette felt the need to pull back, she pointed her hands to the ground in front of her and gave it a quick blast of her powers. The flames pushed her back toward the front lines of the waiting Creators and human forces, a smoldering crater where she once stood. Race landed next to her, pointing up to where the new threat was approaching.
Cenari were entering the base via the hole Race had made to get to the lower levels. Annette felt no worry from Race, his instincts had been good so far. The Cenari fell through the ceiling, but instead of giving them an advantage, it put them in the line of fire for Race, Annette, and the battalion of soldiers defending the area.
Beams of light rained down on the Cenari, further thinning their forces. That was their signal, Race and Annette charged back toward the center of the uncovered area. Race arrived first. He turned and linked his hands in front of him. Annette placed her left foot in the cradle. With his augmented strength, Race launched her back out the ceiling.
Annette reached both hands straight out to each side. Mimicking a movement from her piloting, Annette broke into a spin, spiraling out flames as they purged the tunnels of all remaining Cenari. Her ascent arced as she broke the surface. Annette cleared an area to land as she effortlessly came to a stop. A second later, Race was next to her, pulling the hole closed behind him.
All that was left of them now was to clear the surface. Cenari were rushing them from almost every direction, but the URS Allard was clearing waves with its lower rail guns. Tso was making flybys, blasting his fair share of Cenari as well.
“Incoming!” the voice of Zain came over their comms.
The squad of power armor and combat robots landed around them, taking up a defensive perimeter around Race and Annette. They continued to fight what was left of the Cenari. More mobile than the giant machines, Race and Annette used the armors as cover as they continued to tear apart the Cenari forces.
Within minutes, the flood of Cenari turned into a drizzle. The team continued to fight, not knowing when the battle would be over.
A break came in the combat. The marines remained vigilant, keeping their guard up as they waited for their next surprise.
The announcement came from the major. “What’s left of the Cenari forces are in full retreat. Congratulations, team. We single-handedly took back an entire planet.”
Annette shook her hands, extinguishing the flames. Her link to Race must have given her the knowledge of how to do it.
She turned to congratulate Race, only to find a new sense of dread. His eyes were white, the pupils rolled back into his head. “Doctor, now.”
“Zain!” Annette screeched as she jumped to catch Race. She laid him gently on the ground. She picked up his arm with the sensor and triggered the medical readout. Race’s stats were plummeting far into critical. He had used adrenaline to push himself well beyond his limits. His powers typically took a massive toll on him, was going beyond that point taxing him more than he could afford?
“We need Doctor Tenaway!” Zain yelled over the radio.