The Guardian - A Space Opera in the making....
PROLOGUE In space, explosions were muted.
Until the impact of plasma against a ship’s hull, there was no warning of attack. The whistle of cannon fire closing the distance to target was swallowed up in the vacuum of space. Only the bright flare of light, a millisecond before impact, provided any warning of the destruction to come. The chance to evade only materialised if an astute navigator was monitoring the other ship for the tell-tale signs of energy spikes preceding the discharge of a weapon.
Right now, the navigator and pilot of the Chrysalis was busy plotting a path through the barrage of plasma fire to be concerned about such things. Lt. Marcus Teague was desperately trying to keep the ship ahead of the deadly blasts intended to destroy them. Their enemy wasn’t interested in capture or surrender. Theirs was a mission of search and destroy, and they were close to achieving both.
The pain travelled up Marc’s arm when another particularly violent jolt made him slam against the corner of the helm control panel. Gritting his teeth, he ignored the pain even though a swell of nausea rose in his stomach from the intensity of it. Around him, the bridge was bathed in blood-red light, the universal colour of danger, with the scream of klaxons constant in his ear.
Banking hard, the Chrysalis tilted sharply at an angle, narrowly avoiding the plasma blasts partially seen on the viewscreen in front of him. The bolts of energy continued onward, disappearing into the darkness of space until time gave it another target. In the background, Marc was aware of another small explosion, but his concentration didn’t waver. It was probably another energy overload destroying a workstation.
Until the last month, the Chrysalis was a corsair accustomed to taking pleasure trips across the core systems. She was never intended to perform barrel rolls while avoiding fire from capital ships. Smaller than a cruiser, she was still large enough to have a shuttle bay and was armed with twin plasma cannons. While those weapons were no match for the predator currently in pursuit, the lack of heavy armaments was compensated by speed and manoeuvrability.
The latest manoeuvre allowed Marc to loop back to their original position but what satisfaction he felt at avoiding the last discharge was fleeting. Their stay of execution would only last minutes, no more.
Five minutes, he estimated as he glanced at the viewer and saw the battlecruiser adjusting course to keep up with his frenetic piloting. Not a lot of time left, he thought. Continuing to avoid the intermittent flashing of discharging plasma bolts across the screen, the grim reality of the situation settled over him like the cosmic dust they would soon be. Blinking slowly to centre himself, he ignored the images of the battlecruiser with the bitter reminder the outcome of this pursuit was never in doubt.
“We gave them a good run,” he whispered to the empty bridge, mostly in memoriam to the two officers who died before today, trying to carry out this suicide mission of theirs.
Shiloh and Atilan were all that was left of Marc’s original command. The others chose wisely to change their allegiances, and under the circumstances, Marc couldn’t begrudge them for it. The Commonwealth was dying, and this ship and its occupants were its last gasp before the end. He’d wished there was time to explain to his wife, why this action was necessary. But their mission was one of such secrecy; there was no time to pen a missive to her.
Considering what was coming, he wished he’d disobeyed this one order. Erin deserved to know why she would be raising their child alone. Thoughts of the infant they’d welcome into the world together made him ache in sorrow.
But if he had to die to make a better world for his son, so be it.
Opening the internal comms even as the ship continued to shake and shudder from exploding plasma fire, he didn’t wait for a response before speaking.
There was so much of it before that the sudden lack of it made his heart clench in unfamiliar discomfort. Nothing in this journey had been a surprise, this moment the least of all. Yet standing in front of the bed, his eyes taking in the sight of the woman lying against it, nursing the infant born only a few hours ago, he hoped the outcome would be different. It wasn’t.
He gripped the footboard of the bed to steady himself against the violent shuddering experienced by the ship as it remained under attack. Already, the floor was covered with broken objects and debris resulting from the failure of the deflectors and dampeners. Cy noticed none of these. What figured most in his awareness now was the stink of blood, growing stale on soiled sheets.
She delivered the child on her own because the Chrysalis had no crew and putting into port to get medical assistance was out of the question, not when their pursuers were never more than a day behind. Throughout his long existence, childbirth was something he had little experience with, and so he was as much a novice in this delivery as she.
With the help of the infirmary’s portable auto-doc, she’d endured the labour to give birth to her son, but Cy saw the bleeding and knew it wasn’t normal. The auto-doc made mention of postpartum haemorrhaging and recommended immediate medical attention, which was impossible, of course.
So, she continued to bleed out, accepting what little medical attention he was able to provide. Outside, the assault on the ship continued. The officer who remained loyal to her and her baby was holding the line. When Teague told Cy it was time, he knew the moment had come, and so did she.
While Ferra was by no means weak, she was fragile. Too filled with compassion and kindness, she was the product of a civilised era now disintegrating into history. Perhaps it was a mercy Ferra would not see the darkness about to descend upon the galaxy. The strength she’d wielded to get this far was exhausted, even before the birth. Too much grief and loss had sapped her will, leaving behind only despair.
She raised her eyes to him and once again, he felt the familiar ache of sadness at the diminished light in them. Her once luminous glow was now a pale, waxy version of itself while her beautiful blond hair clung to her face in damp strands. Pale and barely conscious, he could see the strength draining from her body and knew it wouldn’t be long now.
Raising her chin, Ferra looked at the man for whom she bore such mixed feelings. He was the harbinger of doom, but he was also salvation. Should she hate him or thank him? Ultimately, she did neither because what needed to happen did not require it. What mattered was the child in her arms. Her son was born, and he was healthy. Beyond that one truth, all others were unimportant.
“He’s beautiful, isn’t he?” Her eyes returned to the small pink face, utterly unaffected by the bombardment against the hull, her finger tracing over the silk strands of the baby’s dark hair. The same as his father.
Remembering the love of her life, now dead and gone, caused a rush of grief to briefly surge inside her, but Ferra gave it no purchase. She crushed the emotion mercilessly and forced it back in its place. She had no time for it now.
Perfectly aware Cy was trying to appease her; she continued to take in the sight of her baby, committing him to memory. The smell of him, the lightness of him, and the perfect fit of his small shape felt against her breast. She took his tiny hand in hers and caressed the little fingers, taking in the texture of his soft skin. Tears filled her eyes as she did this, though Ferra was oblivious to them until it spilled down her cheeks.
“His name is Peter,” she stated with firmness in her voice Cy had become familiar with. “It’s my father and his grandfather’s name. You will tell him.”
The question was framed as an order, and Cy took it as such.
“I’ll tell him everything.”
“Good,” she drew in her breath and gazed out the window. The battleship loomed in the distance, continuing its assault, causing mini novas to appear across the hull each time one connected and was followed by a violent shudder. “You know where to take him?”
“I do. He will be safe Ferra. I give you my word on it.”
“Your word means nothing.” Her voice was cold, far from the emotional, fragile thing he’d made her out to be. “Your actions are all I care about. Take him.” She drew the baby away from her chest and leaned down to plant a kiss on his forehead. “Get him out of here while you can.”
Nodding, Cy came forward and took the child from her, noting no hesitation when she handed him over. As he secured his grip of the baby, he marvelled at the weight of this small thing upon whose slight shoulders rested so much hope. Ferra turned away from him, facing the window, unable to bear the sight of him taking her child away.
Cy opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. He wasn’t wise or sagely and nothing he could say would blunt the knife buried in her heart. Turning away, he left her behind and stepped through the doors, skulking out like a thief.
It was only in the hallway, did Cy hear her heartbreaking wail of anguish.
In its failure to outright destroy the Chrysalis, the battlecruiser was now intended on snagging the smaller ship in its tractor beam. The bridge was now filling up with suffocating smoke with a support beam breaking loose to hang dangerously against the floor at an angle. Coughing hard and trying to maintain his focus, Marc’s eyes watered as he glanced at one of the smaller screens on his station.
The internal cameras were still functioning, so he was able to see the old man with the infant, hurrying down the empty corridor. Like the bridge, the hallways showed signs of damage from the structural failures on the outer decks.
At least he was on the right deck, Marc thought as he observed Cyrus taking the door leading into the hangar where the shuttle awaited. He was unsurprised the old man was making the trip without Ferra and that knowledge caused another pang of regret to join the growing stockpile inside him. Marc suspected this outcome when told of the troublesome delivery, but it was Ferra who forbade them from seeking help. Even while she laboured to bring her son into the world wracked with agony, the lady understood the brutal realities of their situation.
“We’re launching,” he heard Cyrus say through the comms once the man disappeared off-screen. “Thank you for everything, Marcus.”
“Take care of the boy Cyrus. Make it count.”
If Cyrus answered, Marc didn’t hear it. Another loud blast followed, and this time the klaxon went abruptly silent. Coughing to expel the smoke invading his lungs, he returned his attention to the battlecruiser looming in the ship’s viewer like black death.
He did not wait to see if the shuttle made good its escape. Setting the plasma cannons on the Chrysalis on autofire, Marc aimed the ship at the battlecruiser and took the Chrysalis to ramming speed.
As he sped towards his fate, Marc thought of Erin again and wished once more, he could have spoken to her. He wanted to explain why he sacrificed himself to save another man’s son. A storm was coming, and there was no way to prevent it, but at least today, he’d played a small part in eventually ending it.
The thought comforted him until the world turned bright with heat, and he was finished.