STARFORGERS – Chapter 29

“This marked the first time an android was used to translate between humans and Votainions. As the war progressed, android translators became standard issue in the Fleet. At first they used linguistic enhanced standard models for translators, but eventually humans realized that the best person for the job was a Silicant. There were dozens of Silicants employed by the fleet by the time of The Rising. It proved to be a strategic error for the military, at a time that it could least afford it.”

– Excerpt from: The Long Embrace – A Military History of the Great War, by Ambassador Rachel Kelley, USF University Press

Chapter 29

 

 

Varco saw the smaller craft leave the military vessel and slowly make its way to the ship that was jammed into his. It was not hard to guess that it was a raiding party. He alerted his crew of their approach. A small detail had been trying to get through the wreckage between the ships with welding torches and metal cutters to no avail. He wanted aboard that enemy warship before they tried to separate the two ships. Varco knew it was likely a treasure trove of information about this species. He planned to use it to defeat them. Assuming he got out of his current predicament.

His short range weapons were off-line and his power was fluctuating wildly, resulting in random gravity flops and complete power outages across his ship. He silently cursed Kantor again for bringing them this far inside enemy space.

* * *

The boarding crew were all wearing space suits and carrying enough ammunition and explosives to destroy a small town. They came aboard at the Sokol’s abandoned landing bay and made their way inside, following empty corridors filled with floating debris. Each member flitted through the passageways on personal retro-packs. It was the fastest way to move through a ship with no working gravi-plates.

Deep inside the ship where the corridors that led to the head began, they ran across a space suited figure, training a blaster rifle on a bulkhead door. It looked like someone had been trying to melt their way through the door. The figure was wedged behind some twisted metal behind the strongest bulkhead.

Commander Trimble was on point, being the most familiar with the Sokol. She approached the silent figure, reaching out to wipe frosted condensation from the suit’s visor. She gasped and pushed back from the figure.

Her breath was nearly as fast as her heartbeat. “It’s the Captain!”

Upon hearing his name over the suit’s com-link, Captain Raider opened his eyes and stared out at Trimble. His face was pale white and tinged with blue from the cold. His beard frosted over.

“About time you came home,” he managed to say.

Trimble wanted to hug the man, but she was not sure of his medical condition. She called up a medic and the two of them plugged into the Captain’s suit and started triaging. He had just ran out of oxygen and the internal suit heaters were broke. The medic started pumping in warm air from his own suit through a hose. Raider didn’t move much, just floated there, glassy eyed and cold.

“Sir, we’re going to board the enemy ship and try to take it. Stay here and we’ll come back for you. Medic, stay with him,” Trimble said.

“Aye ma’am,” the medic responded.

Raider motioned for her to come closer to his faceplate. She held onto his stiff arms and pulled herself to him.

“Commander, finish this for me,” he said. His voice cracking over the comm link.

Trimble nodded.“I will, sir. I will.”

Raider closed his eyes and let go of her. She thought he was dying but the medic gave her a thumbs up sign. His vitals were still good. He was just incredibly weak from the cold and lack of oxygen.

Trimble slung her gun around and pushed back to the group.

“Let’s get through this passage people. Time’s wasting.”

The welders and an explosive expert were already setting up at the bulkhead door. Captain Blud floated up to Trimble and motioned to Raider’s inert form. “Is he still alive?”

“Yes, but just barely. The medic will stay with him until we finish our mission.”

Blud moved closer to Raider and put a gloved hand on his helmet, tapping it gently. Raider stirred, and opened his blue-gray eyes. The two men looked at each other for a long moment. Old friends, meeting on the battlefield for perhaps the last time. They had endured their military training together and even served on the same ship out of the Academy. But due to a strong difference of opinion between Blud and the Fleet, they had gone their separate ways. Each was now living a very different life than they had dreamed about in school.

“Rik, you’ve done well old friend. We’ll get you out of here.”

Raider nodded slowly. “It was sssSasha’s idea to use the head. Ssssmart woman, her.”

Blud smiled, his teeth bright behind the reflections on his faceplate and said, “Your FO is amazing. I wouldn’t be here without her.”

Raider’s pale brow curled in a slow, painful arch. “I’m sssso sorry, sheee’s gone.”

Blud’s smile faded. They had not found Sasha after the Sokol had been abandoned. He figured she had died in the evacuation.

“Ssssha’s beyond the bulkhead. I couldn’t get her away from them. Bbbravest starman I have eeever known,” Blud said, his voice weak and trembling from the cold.

Blud grasped Raider’s gloved hand and squeezed it before pushing away. The breaching crew was making headway and the medic had to pull Raider back inside the ship to get out of the way. Blud watched his old friend float away and shook his head. He turned around to hover beside Trimble.

“Sasha is beyond,” he said. Pointing to the blocked bulkhead. “They have her.”

Commander Trimble’s countenance was stone-like behind her faceplate. She had a determined look in her eye that he had learned very early on to trust. “Let’s go get her.”

Blud nodded and they both went forward to help the others clear the way. The bulkhead was scored with blast marks and weakened in the middle where the enemy had tried to melt it away. In minutes they had removed the broken tables and other bits of debris that Raider had used to block the passageway and make it difficult for the enemy to enter his dead ship.

Explosives were used to blast the remaining bulkhead door. When the smoke had cleared, whisked away by the nearest breach in the hull, they could see the dark insides of the shattered corridor that used to lead to the Sokol’s head.

* * *

Eighty-eight climbed over the top of the shuttle, clinging to the metal hand holds used by maintenance crews. It stood up and grasped the twisted metal scaffolding of the hanger’s ceiling and used it to hand walk its way in the direction that the human boarding party had taken.

It was not acting on any orders from other Silicants, it was acting instinctively to help with the mission. To help the android that it had mentored for so long on Ocherva – to help Thirty-seven.

* * *

Captain Blud was the first through the open door. His face tight with determination to find his First Mate. The rest of his team followed suit, their weapons at the ready. Trimble and her group waited for a beat to ensure they were not all pined down in a firefight.

The dark corridor was empty and extended into the mysterious interior of the Votainion warship. As they floated forward, the gravity well of the enemy ship pulled them to the deck. They turned off their retro-packs and walked the narrow, “V” shaped corridor to the next bulkhead. The tremendous violence of the collision had sheared the decks of the Votainion warship. The corridor was well inside the enemy ship proper. Sloped walls were charcoal colored with angled red lights that came back to a narrow ceiling. Bulkheads were slate gray with flat red edges. The door was wedged open with the corpse of a Blue-skin crewman. He was dressed in simple black fatigues and a dull, shattered helmet, torn apart by a headshot.

Blud grabbed the man under his armpits and pulled him through the opening while two others tried to push the heavy metal door up. They were successful in lifting it just high enough to let Blud and the other team members through. One of the last members through the door wedged it open with a piece of heavy pipe he found in the debris.

The red-lit corridor inside was littered with dead Votainion crewmen. There were a dozen bodies lying in heaps as if they had been shot, one after the other trying to flood into the corridor. Blud searched in vain for a black space suit that he knew Sasha would be wearing. She was not among the many dead in this stretch.

Blud pointed down the open corridor beyond. It was eerily empty, as if they were not aware anyone would try to come aboard. That set off all kinds of alarms for Blud. It smacked openly of a trap.

“Too quiet, we’re being led into a trap,” Blud said.

Trimble moved beside him, trying to peer down the dimly lit passage. “We should split up, go another direction.”

Blud agreed, but there was only one corridor and it led them forward. He was now firmly convinced it led to a trap. But there had to be a way to move laterally across the ship. He ran his hands along the smooth panels that extended along the sloped walls of the corridor. Perhaps there were hidden controls that were not visible. He studied the positions of the dead crewmen lying on the floor and propped up against the walls. Several of them were positioned oddly, as if they had come into the corridor not down the main path but from out of the walls.

“Everyone look for a hidden door along the walls. All of these men did not come down this narrow corridor. Some of them came from other doors.”

Trimble and the others began running their gloved hands along the walls, pushing, pulling, probing for secret doors. Trimble looked down low and found a pool of dark blood that seemed to seep our of the base of the wall. She watched it for a moment, as it grew larger, being fed beyond the wall.

“Captain, here.” She pointing to the blood.

“Someone is on the other side of this panel, bleeding out.”

They began frantically looking for a way to open the secret door. Trimble became frustrated. She motioned for them to stand back and leveled her blaster on the wall. One quick shot at nearly point blank range produced a large hole and revealed a hidden passageway. Blud peeked his helmet inside and turned on its headlamp. There was a body on the other side and many more down the narrow, black passage.

“It’s some kind of maintenance passage. There are more bodies,” Blud said, upon pulling his head out of the hole.

Trimble motioned for two more crewmen to help her pull away the thin metal of the exposed door. Blud was first into the narrow passage, his blaster at the ready as he shuffled along over the dead bodies. There must have been another half dozen men slain in the passage.

He reached another closed door and quickly found the mechanism to open it. He waited until a few more men were at his back, before he opened it and burst into another V shaped corridor.

He went in to his left and the man behind him went to his right. The corridor was empty and there were no bodies or evidence of fighting. Blud was confused. He waited for more members of his team to come into the corridor as he looked around carefully. A strange feeling suddenly gripped him. He felt the skin on the back of his neck tingle.

“Something’s not right.”

His dark eyes focused down the corridor. It curved to the right but there were no signs of life. He looked down the corridor in the other direction. It was equally as silent, like a crypt.

“Commander, the trail of bodies ends in a corridor similar to the one where we came in. I’m proceeding deeper into the body of the starship,” Blud said. He didn’t mention his alarm.

“We are proceeding into the trap with caution. No signs of fighting or anyone alive,” Trimble replied over the communicator.

There was a burst of static over the line that literally made Blud cringe inside his suit.

“Commander, are you alright?”

The communicator was silent. At first Blud though his unit was malfunctioning. It was as if it were turned off. He motioned to his helmet and spoke to the pirate crewman beside him. “You hear them on your communicator?”

“No sir.”

Blud motioned for his men to continue forward, weapons at the ready. If Trimble’s party were under attack, perhaps the enemy would be distracted enough to not notice their movements. They rounded the bend in the corridor and found several crewmen exiting another secret passageway. Their backs were to Blud and his men. Blud took the first shot, killing one of the Votainions. The pirate on his right shot the second one. A feeling of dread intensified in Blud.

They quickly ran up to the dead men and looked inside the room where they had just emerged. It was a small, smooth-walled room with a body lying inside. It was Sasha. She was on her back with three gaping holes in her torso. Blud rushed to her side, his hand lifting up her helmeted head. She was dead, thankfully. But he could tell she did not go down without a fight. There were blaster shots on her hip, leg and shoulder in addition to the weapons that had obviously impaled her chest. A single blade remained inside her gut, its owner among the dead around her.

Her face was untouched, her expression serene. She had not gone down easily. He was proud of her for that. She had died like a warrior, a true pirate. Blud eased her head down and stood up. He pulled the sword from her chest and held it examining the blood soaked blade.

Sasha’s blood.

“I shall avenge you my love. With this blade, I shall kill until killed. With this blade I shall send these beasts back to the void from whence they came. With this blade, I do avenge your life.”

The other pirates stood aside as Blud marched out of the room, blade in hand, and death in his eyes like dark storm clouds.

* * *

Trimble was braced behind the bulkhead, firing her blaster down the corridor at Votainion crewmen. Her two men on point were dead and it was down to just her and three others, one of whom was an android. She looked back at them and fixated on the android. Something about androids and these Blue-skinned people vexed her memory. Lieutenant Ardel was across from the android, her blond hair red from the overhead lights. She had carelessly flung off her restrictive helmet so she could aim her weapon better. Foolish of her, she acts without thinking. Someday it will get her killed, either that or earn her a field promotion. 

Trimble opened her visor and pushed it up so she could scream at Devon. The air was fragrant with the smell of burned materiel and some kind of offensive smell that reminded Trimble of burnt food.

“Ardel, get up here,” Trimble screamed. She laid down some cover fire and the young lieutenant bolted to the bulkhead opposite Trimble.

“Didn’t that android of yours come from Ocherva?” Trimble asked.

Devon nodded, then remembered protocol. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Every human was killed on that moon, but they didn’t touch it,” Trimble said, motioning to Thirty-seven.

Devon’s eyes widened. “No ma’am.”

Trimble checked the charge on her blaster. It was good for a few dozen more shots. Then she fixed her gaze on Devon. “Send it down the corridor. My guess is they won’t shoot it.”

“But what if they do? It’s our only translator.”

Trimble winced. She had already forgotten that. She looked back at the android again.

“I’m willing to take that chance. I don’t think they’ll fire on unarmed people or androids. Have it translate for us now. Maybe it can get us an audience with their leader.”

The uncertainty was clearly written on Devon’s face. She turned back and called up Thirty-seven. Then she shot a few rounds to cover his move. “I hope you’re right, Commander.”

Thirty-seven stood in the narrow corridor beside Devon, unable to manage the kind of off kilter lean that the humans were doing to remain behind the bulkheads. The Votainions had stopped firing upon seeing the android.

Devon and Trimble both shrugged as Trimble spoke. “Android, tell them that we wish to see their leader. Tell them if they don’t comply, we are prepared to destroy their ship and everyone aboard.”

Thirty-seven’s glowing eyes winked and it ambled forward, past the bulkhead. There were no shots fired by either side. It started speaking in the Votainion tongue and then stopped.

The corridor was silent. Trimble could hear shuffling and ventured a glance down the corridor. “What are they doing?” she asked Thirty-seven.

“They appear to be retreating,” Thirty-seven said.

“Maybe they think it’s one of their own?”

Trimble pushed off the wall and moved to stand beside the android. A thin layer of smoke hung in the air near the ceiling. She could see no signs of the enemy.

“Come on, let’s go Slim,” she said, slapping Thirty-seven on the back as she passed it.

The two pirates passed, Trimble and Devon took up the rear, urging her android to follow the others. They moved wearily down the empty corridor, weapons at the ready. Devon kept a close eye on their rear, fully expecting Votainions to come out of the walls and attack.

___________________

Author’s Comments: The Rising is mentioned again in this chapter header. It is the second book of the Starforgers trilogy and I’m writing it at the time of this post. Many of the Silicants introduced in this book are also in book two. While The Rising is less swash buckle than book one, we do get to see more of the relationship between Silicants and humans.  Devon Ardel is still the central character and events put her in a position to help the Silcants in ways her mother never dreamed of. It is also the story of how the Silicants left humanity behind. Book two should be out in ebook form by the end of 2013.

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