"Nothing on the scope, Sir"
"All indicators on the level."
"Course maintained at 5000 metres."
Captain P.H. Douglas smiled and looked over the bridge of CNV – 399, Ark Royal. He was sitting in the captain's chair, at the rear of the bridge. From behind his command console, the bridge looked cramped, very similar to bridges of submersible warships from three hundred years ago. The other three command crewmembers were sat ahead of him at their stations.
Directly ahead of him was the pilot. Smith was a quiet older man who'd been a flight cadet with Douglas. Clanwellin, the gunner, was to his left. A young cadet, straight out of the academy. Finally there was Kelly, the engineer. They kept their heads down, monitoring their systems. Clanwellin turned to face him.
"Sir, there is no-one within scanning distance. May I recommend we move to yellow alert?"
"Mr Clanwellin, are you quoting the book at me?" There was a hint of threat in Douglas' voice.
"Captain's discretion." The captain held his gaze. "Mr Clanwellin, I know this is only your second trip and you're only learning. But I thought you were taught how to follow orders?"
"Aye Aye Sir." He turned back to his readouts.
Douglas regarded Clanwellin. That was his only warning, any more questioning and he'd come down on the boy hard but he'd have to learn. He could see Kelly's shoulders shake, she was probably trying not to laugh. She may be an engineer of the highest calibre, but she was also the firebrand that always got into scrapes on shore leave. She seemed to be on report permanently.
"Mind your station, Ms Kelly!"
He called up the short-range scan. The medical transport 'Do No Harm" was a steady 5Km off the port bow on their way to new Ireland colony, after the green glow "incident". He was of the opinion that the situation should be left alone, but he had his orders. Of the four medical transports sent, three had disappeared and the fourth had been recovered with serious battle damage. There had been no survivors. It was worrying that the number of pirate attacks had gone up. But he couldn't understand what pirates had to gain by totally destroying their prey. There was nothing left to salvage.
The Ark Royal was a small corvette in the service of the commonwealth. It had the more firepower for a ship twice its size. Armed with forward and rear plasma cannon and missile magazine, it was more heavily armed than the old cruisers that Douglas used to man in his old Earth Force days.
The ship itself looked like a flat streamlined fish. It was a design that proved itself when the black ships came four to five years ago. The ship's shield array system could deflect most energy, away from the ship, as long as the array was pointing in the right direction. It had saved many lives at the time, but this situation was turning out very differently.
What worried him the most was that the blast damage on that recovered fourth transport. The residue on the damage suggested Minbari energy signatures. Maybe after twenty years, the Minbari had found them. After four ships had been attacked in four runs, he had no intention of standing his crew down, even if Clanwellin and the book recommended. An alert sounded on the Clanwellin's Station.
"Sir Multiple contacts, range and bearing on screen." announced Clanwellin
"Smith. Plot an intercept course. Kelly, sound battle stations."
Acknowledgements came from both crewmembers. The klaxon's sounded. There were 45 other members of the crew, repair crews mostly. As soon as the alarm went they'd start getting the repair systems on line, bulkheads would be closing in case of decompression and the missile and PBC would be coming on line.
"PBC on line, Shield array's on line. Magazine loaded and armed. Sir!" announced Clanwellin.
Douglas acknowledged the report and opened a channel.
"Attention unidentified ships. This is the CNV Ark Royal. State you intentions."
"Sir, Two Ships are breaking off towards us 10km. The third is heading for the transport."
"FTL for Backup." Douglas ordered. "Kelly, Order the transport to raise its shield and track the third ship. Clanwellin, lock missile, slow mode, on Bogie One and fire immediately."
"Missile away Sir "
"Smith prepare for a n-180 pitch and head straight between them."
"They're firing. Shield arrays are tracking Bogies One and Two."
The Ark Royal began to shake as the shields tried to deflect the incoming energy.
"Lock PBC on target two and prepare to fire."
The two aggressors came into visual range. Ark Royal was going to head straight in-between them. The ships seemed to be black in colour. The looked like darts but more rounded, more organic. They had two wings with what looked like an engine on each. They didn't look Minbari and they didn't have the same fighting style Douglas remembered from the war. Fire continued to stream from both
"Shield Array one is overloading."
"3 K." Smith reeled off the distance
"Keep them on-line!"
"Permission to fire Sir!"
Clanwellin sounded on the verge of panic.
"Denied, Wait for the order."
"Smith, n-180 pitch now"
"Clanwellin, Rapid fire on second Bogie once complete"
Ark Royal's nose began to rise. Douglas lost sight of the enemy as they sped by. The ship flipped over and was now flying backwards. The two other ships began to turn, giving Clanwellin an easy profile to hit. The PBC fired burst after burst, raking its target with lances of light. The ship seemed to crumble after a few hits and then blew out in an expanding ball of flame.
"Full Forward, Intercept the Third bogie."
"Sir, The first bogie is lined up." Clanwellin's voice sounded as if it was going through the roof.
"Don't worry about that one." Douglas tried to sound reassuring.
The view port flared as the slow missile hit its target.
"Dorsal shield's down sir. ETR 2 minutes." Kelly sounded calm and collected
"Roll 180, Show them our good side."
"Aye Aye sir." Smith acknowledged. You had to listen hard to hear him.
"Sensors report first Bogie out of control and third Bogie making a run for it."
"Transport, what's your status?" asked Douglas.
"Overloaded shield, but no other damage." Came the reply.
There was a gasp from Kelly.
"Jump point forming ahead of target three."
Douglas stomach went tight, "Reinforcements?"
"Negative, target three just jumped"
He relaxed, relieved that the danger had passed. There was a flash of PsudoeMotion as two other corvettes arrived.
"This is the Dreadnought and Hibernia. We stand ready to assist you."
Douglas grimaced. It was just his luck that these two would be sent to assist.
"Captain Clay. You just missed it. Could you be so kind to escort the "Do No Harm" in?"
The small framed opened up on the command display, showing Captain Clay. He could be only described as a bear of a man. Tall, black and imposing, he had the kind of voice that had authority stamped all over it. He smiled.
"Of Course, Captain Douglas." He said in a condescending tone, "We've been monitoring your performance. Nice to see you can learn a few tricks now and again."
Clay terminated the connection. He was probably the best captain in the fleet and the problem was that was he knew it. Douglas thought he was an arrogant sod but it was not the kind of thing you say out loud.
"Plot a course back to the original target." He ordered. "See if we can get some answers."
Ark Royal pitched and lined up and fired her main engines. Their opponent grew bigger in the view port. It had lost the rear section of the ship, it's forward area and wings seemed intact. She seemed to be packed with gun ports. There was no visible bridge section and she was spinning round in slow-pitch.
"Hold at 1K and full scan."
The front of the ship seemed to line up with Ark Royal. Douglas's stomach clenched and what seemed like an alarm bell went off in the back of his mind.
"Lock both shield arrays… ".
There was a flurry of activity from Kelly
The other ship fired when it was lined up. The Ark Royal shuddered under the impact. There was a scream from Kelly, as the engineering station seemed to explode in a shower of sparks.
"Fire at will" Douglas shouted.
The PBC fired and blasted the stationery ship apart. Douglas got up out of the command station and clambered over to engineering station. Kelly's body had gone limp. He felt for a pulse and found a strong rhythm. She seemed to be breathing but she was bleeding from the temple.
"Medic to the bridge." He scanned the readouts left on the Engineering display. Apart from the Shield Array, everything seemed fine.
Close call. Thought Douglas.
"Sir, There seems to be Life pod in the wreckage. One life sign." Reported Clanwellin.
"Smith. Recover that pod. "
The Bridge bulkhead opened and a medic ran in. Douglas stepped back. The medic knelt next to Kelly and opened his green medical kit. Douglas could feel the ship under him move as Smith performed the manoeuvres necessary to recover the pod. The medic looked up at Douglas.
"She seems all right sir, concussion I think." he announced.
Douglas visible relaxed. He was almost suckered into thinking that the ship had been harmless. He probably had done the same if the position was reversed. They had no reported casualties apart from Kelly and hopefully she'd be back on her feet soon enough.
"Recovery Team to Bridge." Came the call from the wall speaker.
"This is the Captain."
"Sir, I think you should come and see this."
"Smith. You have the conn." He ordered and left the bridge.
The corvette's corridors were cramped and dark. This was because most of the ship is used for combat not comfort. He was constantly thankful that the artificial gravity system had been invented ten years ago. He remembered what it was like to fly down a corridor and much preferred walking. He made his way up to the Dorsal docking port, where he came across two crewmen.
"What have we got?"
Both Crewmen straightened up, came to attention and one saluted.
"Chief Tech Lennon Sir. Take a Look."
Douglas looked round the corner and his stomach tightened. It was what he had always dreaded. There was an unconscious Minbari. He was slumped against the side of his life pod with his head resting on his shoulder. He was dressing in black with what looked like a brown cloak. On one side of his chest, there seemed to be some kind of badge that was broken in two and on the other was a nametag in English.
It said Lennier.