As always, neither Farscape or Stargate Atlantis Belong to me. Thanks for all the Wonderful reviews, now in reward for your patience, the final part of chapter 3.
As always, neither Farscape or Stargate Atlantis Belong to me.
Thanks for all the Wonderful reviews, now in reward for your patience, the final part of chapter 3.
The Others Chapter 3c
Sheppard sat quietly: watching the shattered remains of the alien ship tumbling away on the sensors. He was breathing hard, his lungs sucking down oxygen, for his heart was still beating fast from the adrenaline of combat, and the gruelling dash from the transporter cubicle to the bridge. As soon as the intruder's craft had begun to undock, alerted by McKay, the three of them had run for the bridge.
As he surveyed the slowly dispersing debris cloud that was rapidly falling astern, Sheppard couldn't help but wonder if he'd overreacted. With the shields up at full power it was highly unlikely the enemy vessel could have even damaged let alone destroyed them. He could have just made the decision to back off, and escape into the safety of hyperspace. Instead he'd destroyed them. Granted the alien ship had been powering up weapons, but had he been under any chain of command he doubted his superiors would have agreed with him.
He had just escalated the situation, and he didn't like it. What was worse, the enemy vessel had had time to send out a brief transmission before his second salvo silenced it forever. He had no idea what had been said, or whether it had simply been an automated emergency beacon of some kind. It didn't matter; in their current situation any signal was potentially dangerous.
Right now his instincts were telling him to run, run far before whoever had received that signal turned up with a bigger and nastier ship. He had already swung the Hydra around onto a course out of the system and engaged the sublight engines at full power. He checked the sensor feeds again, no new contacts, nothing. So where had that ship come from?
At a cursory inspection, none of the planets appeared habitable, and the reduced sensors weren't picking up any structures or space stations. That meant the system was likely uninhabited, so presumably the ship had been a patrol vessel of some kind. That could be good or bad, a patrol ship might be expected to be out of contact for long periods, but they were also usually protecting something important.
He triggered his radio, "McKay, are you in engineering yet?"
"I'm here Sheppard."
"What's the status of the hyperdrive? Can we jump to hyperspace yet?"
"Not yet. The main navigational system is still only partly operational. Until I get it back online the navigational computer can't get an exact fix on our coordinates, and without them we can't plot any course longer than a few light-years for fear of crashing into a sun."
"So how long do you think that will take?"
"Honestly Sheppard I have no idea, I've not even had a chance to have any more glance at the relays from the main sensor array. Until we can find somewhere safe to hide so I can find what's wrong and fix it, we can only jump short distances. We're limited by the range of the auxiliary sensor array."
"Alright Rodney, I'll take whatever you can give me."
"Understood, it'll be a few minutes before we can jump though, there's still a few things I need to clear up. "
The radio went silent, and John leant back into the fabric of the command chair, trying to calm his racing mind. They needed to leave this system, but for all he knew, by jumping into hyperspace to another nearby they could end up in a far worse position. At least this system was uninhabited, others nearby might not be. He had no desire to jump out of the frying pan and end up in the fire. Still, he had little choice.
Far astern, on the surface of a moon, crews were hurriedly manning their duty stations, as the crews of the remaining 4 Strykers began to power up their vessels. Already on alert, the Strykers engines were always kept ready for a quick start, and fed power through umbilicals from the docks, it was only took a matter of minutes to bring their reactors from cold to online.
As the attack ships began to lift off, the outpost's powerful active sensors came online for the first time, invisible beams of energy tracking across the vast expanse of space. Fed information by a series of carefully positioned probes, painstakingly disguised inside asteroids and other bits of space junk, the outpost's commander was able to survey a real time image of the entire system. In particular he stared hard at the symbol that represented the unknown ship, already heading out of the system at high velocity.
Of the patrol ship he had dispatched earlier, from which they had just received a garbled transmission, there was no sign. He gazed at the display for a few microts, debating his options. That the missing Stryker had seen fit to violate standing orders and break radio silence was telling. He knew her captain personally, for the highly decorated officer to risk his own life by disobeying a direct order, he must have judged there to be a serious and immediate threat to the outpost. It was for that reason that he had taken the risk of powering the depots active sensor systems. It was a risky course of action, for active scanning was impossible to disguise, which was why the depot had until now relied primarily on passive means of detection.
Even the doziest tech wouldn't miss the sensor sweeps, and swiftly triangulate the subspace scan back to its source on the surface of the rocky moon. He had therefore, just signalled that there was a secret base buried beneath the crust of the small planetoid to any hostile vessels in the system as noisily as if he'd set off a couple of thermonuclear devices in the thin atmosphere overhead. His orders, unusually, gave him full authority to act as he thought best in this matter, instructing him that his priorities were, on pain of execution or worse for failure, to ensure the secrecy and survival of the installation, by any means he thought necessary.
The conspicuous absence of the Stryker from the sensor display, the frantic and cut short transmission and the presence of a large unknown vessel fleeing the system, didn't take a genius to analyse. The situation had changed rapidly. It was no longer a matter of investigating an unknown energy signature, his priority now was to prevent that vessel carrying news of the Scarren presence in this system to the rest of the galaxy.
He gave his orders to a subordinate, who relayed them across the room to the operators on duty at the communications system. At the speed the escaping vessel was travelling, it could only be a matter of microns before it left the system. He half expected the vessel to accelerate faster than light, but to his surprise so far it showed no signs of accelerating beyond sublight velocities. It was quick, especially for a contact that according to the data massed the same as a light capital unit. Few vessels that size could accelerate their bulk to more than .3 of light speed, but this one could, and it was still accelerating.
A Stryker was fast, but for all their speed, the 4 remaining vessels of the defence squadron couldn't match that sort of sub-light capability. In this case though, they didn't need too, for as soon as they achieved a safe orbit, they could plot an intercept course and using their hetch drives, accelerate to cut the escaping ship off before it the left the system. They possessed few facts about the unknown vessel; it was clearly armed, but likely not too heavily. Unless it possessed some revolutionary new drive system, unlikely, then for the ship to achieve the speeds it was travelling; it likely had few weapons or defences, its hull stripped down for speed.
He had encountered similar vessels before, used chiefly for spying and fast reconnaissance. While they usually possessed enough firepower to defend themselves against small craft, their chief defence was speed. More heavily armed than anything smaller, fast enough to escape anything larger, as the expression went. The presence of such a vessel here was worrying, for it suggested that the Scarren presence in this system was known, or at least, suspected. The key issue was however, by whom?
The enormous power spike that had tripped the active sensors could hardly have been deliberate on a spying mission. Since the vessel had remained motionless for over an arn, it must have been some sort of accident, perhaps a reactor malfunction. That would explain why it had not yet accelerated faster than light, its Hetch drives could be damaged. It couldn't be too badly damaged however, not when it was capable of that sort of speed. He only hoped that its subspace com system was offline also. Whatever its mission or origins, the Strykers would hunt it down soon enough. Each captain had experience of this sort of thing, although it would be the first time all four had worked together. They might not have the speed, but they had the experience and the firepower.
As he watched, and waited, the commander's thoughts wandered, as he considered what his superiors would make of the situation. They would not be pleased, of that he was certain. He had been proud to be appointed commander of this outpost, but he knew only too well that the price of any failure in his task was of an equal to the reward for success. He did not even want to imagine his fate, should the squadron fail to prevent the spy ships escape.
Hull Number 8774/SY776/68D, Uncharted Territories: 28th April 2004 (Earth Date)
2 Hour 27 Minutes Post Hydra's Emergence From the Wormhole
It was massive. From stem to stern it measured close to 5 kilometres in length, and displaced several million metric tons; a creature of death, with a hide of metal, teeth of plasma and raging hearts of fire. Lights glinted on its armour, and from its stern came a mighty glow, as vast engines propelled it across the stars.
It had no name, no title to inspire fear in its foes, not anymore. Its long angular form, tapering slightly to a point at the bluff round bow, bore no name plate, only the freshly painted insignia of the Scarren Empire. It's only official designation was a hull number in the huge imperial archives, which curiously listed the ship's status as decommissioned, being dismantled for parts. It would have surprised a number of senior bureaucrats to find the vessel under its own power, several sectors from where it was supposed to be being broken up.
That was not to say it was the same ship it had once been. Any officer familiar with the outdated dreadnaught class would have immediately noted the massive changes made to the vessel. Like its more modern cousins, the dreadnaught had originally mounted half a dozen heavy turrets, in emplacements down the centre line of the dreadnaught. These four barrelled monstrosities, smaller than those currently in service but still quite deadly, had once formed the dreadnaught's primary offensive armament. Located in staggered barbettes along the upper hull, from right on the bows to a cluster around the squat command tower towards the stern of the ship, the layout allowed the dreadnaught to focus the maximum amount of fire ahead or on either flank, without one turret masking another.
On this vessel though, the forward guns had been retained, but towards the stern the bulky turrets had been removed. Not only that, but the entire stern of the vessel had been remodelled and expanded. On either side of the engines, new sections of hull extended outwards at a 90 ˚ angle, and then forwards, curving back towards the hull. From above it looked as if the dreadnaught was a primitive rocket that had been fitted with a pair of stubby guidance fins. Located atop these "fins" however, and around the base of the stubby command tower, were a multitude of new weapons systems, far smaller than the massive forward turrets, and far more advanced. Bank after bank of double, triple and even quad barrelled turrets covered the "fins", set not just atop the hull, but in defensive emplacements around the mouths of the launch bays, leading to the hangers that took up the bulk of the newly created space.
While the original design was proven to be highly effective against capital or corvette sized vessels, and had thus been carried forward into the next class of vessels, the dreadnaught's tactical design did have a weakness. For all their thick armour, they carried very limited point defensive armament, relying instead on their own small fighter compliment and other vessels to defend them against missiles or enemy small craft.
When the Kalish design team responsible for the first evolution of the design had dreamt up the concept, they had also intended for the ships to operate in unison with smaller vessels, equipped with dedicated anti fighter and missile weaponry. The Emperor was entranced with the brutal and deadly design, but scorned the advice of the vessels Kalish chief designer, stating that Scarrens did not need such vessels, and as such, none of the intended support vessels ever left the drawing board. It was said that that the entire design team were later executed, simply because the chief designer dared to question the decision of the Emperor.
Now another Kalish had attempted to redress the balance. The dreadnaught was a test bed, a prototype, testing technologies newly developed or stolen from other races. Its existence was not a secret, for even allowing for the size and scale of the Scarren Imperium, there were only a few shipyards that could handle vessels approaching 2 metras in length. Perhaps one hundred of these huge shipyard facilities dotted the empire, each of vital importance, for they serviced the vast dreadnaughts, and the dreadnaught fleets held the conquered worlds of the Imperium together. The command of each and every of these huge installations was appointed personally by the Emperor, for brutal experience had shown that he who controlled the shipyards, not the fleet, controlled the Imperium.
For the last one and a half cycles prior to its current voyage into the Uncharted territories, the ship had been refitting in the Kcykarix system, home system of the 253rd conquest fleet. Their name was confusing, for the 253rd had not been involved in any conquering for the last 89 cycles. The formation had been decimated and disgraced during an abortive attack on a Luxan system, and exiled in disgrace to guard an unthreatened stretch of border. The formerly crack unit barely deserved the title of 'fleet' anymore, its numbers were so diminished. It had shrunk through poor maintenance and decay to perhaps a third of its original size, its few dreadnaughts for the most part poorly maintained with much of the unit's lax duties carried out by smaller vessels. In such a close environment, the arrival of a new ship and personnel could hardly go unnoticed.
The Kcykarix system was a backwater, it's aging but extensive facilities reflecting its former status as fleet base on a vulnerable frontier, but as the frontier had advanced, the base had been left behind. Most of the docks were bare shells, stripped of useful material and left to rot. Most of the 150 000 or so fleet members viewed the work on the dreadnaught with nothing but scorn. Not only did they consider the work remotely treasonous, for the dreadnaught was steadily becoming less and less Scarren, but much of the work was being carried out by Kalish. That was nothing unusual, the Kalish had long been the Imperium's technicians, but in their enforced exile, the predominantly Scarren crews of the 253rd had become even more racist and self-superior than usual.
This had actually helped with security, the dreadnaught was moored on one of the outer docks anyway, but the predominantly Kalish work crews avoided the central hub of the station where the Scarrens socialised. Parts and components for the project were similarly stored under heavy guard on the outer docking pylon, far from the main warehouses.
Had the 253rd known that technology from other races was being installed aboard the hulk; they would likely have torn it apart with their bare hands. Scarren mentality would not accept the fact that there were races more powerful and more technology advanced than their own society. Had they known, as fewer than thousand living people knew, that one of the systems being tested aboard was a Peacekeeper derived defence screen, then they would quite likely have opened fire on the vessel themselves.
As the aged ship moved ponderously though space, Chief Artificer Vahna stood on the dreadnaught's wide bridge, monitoring the readings from the ship's mighty reactors. Only two of the three reactor cores utilised by this older design were active, but during the rebuild two of the cores had been replaced with modern reactors. As such the ship was receiving far more power with only two cores than it had with the original three. This had allowed the dreadnaught to reach its current location from Kcykarix in a far shorter time than the original systems would have allowed, but with that came unanticipated problems. The power conduits on this older class weren't designed to accommodate the increased power flow and were thus prone to overloads and burnouts. Indeed it was one such overload that had forced the dreadnought to drop out of Hetch drive and perform an immediate scram on one of the reactors to avert a catastrophic core meltdown.
For the last 6 arns Vahna's engineering teams had been struggling to repair or replace faulty systems all across the ship, including a potentially nasty fault in the main power couplings to engine bank five. The emergency shutdown – while it had saved them from certain annihilation – had caused overloads and burnouts all over the ship, damaging systems which had only recently started to come back online. Much of the problem, he thought, is that this ship is old.
During the refit they had ripped out and replaced much of the original worn out power grid, but to save time they had simply replaced it with newly manufactured but identical out of date components. From the data being fed to him from the ships systems and from his teams scattered throughout the hull, it looked as if the power conduits would have to be completely replaced with a more efficient design. That was assuming we receive funding, or the ship doesn't explode, he thought angrily.
While he admired the vision and technical challenge behind the prototype, he thought the scale of the project too optimistic to be practical. It didn't help that the ship was drastically undermanned, or that she had left Spacedock before she was fully completed. The work would have been better carried out on a newly built ship, he thought, but his Scarren 'masters' would never have allowed it. He continued to stare intently at the console, gladly concealing his seditious thoughts behind an appearance of attentiveness. He was well aware that only his importance to the project had prevented his replacement before now. He knew also that should the project prove a failure, he and his engineering crews would take the blame. The secrecy of the project would make ''reassigning' them simple, and he repressed a shiver of horror at the thought of not seeing his partner and offspring again. There was a grunt and a sound of abused metal from behind him, reminding him of the presence of yet another irritation with this project.
A hulking Scarren had slammed a hand down firmly on a malfunctioning panel, the impact causing the flickering screen to freeze into clarity momentarily, before resume its blurred flashing. The Scarren turned his long neck towards Vashna in irritation, growling "Report Repair Progress" at him in a raspy bad tempered voice. He was accustomed to the abruptness and overbearing arrogance of the tone, a typical Scarren was bad enough, but this was the dreadnaught's captain.
"The chief engineer estimates it will take at least an arn to finish repairing the damage," he replied, not bothering to disguise the slight irritation in his voice. He'd answered the same question three times previously in the last two arns, each time the answer had been the same. "Repairs are on schedule."
The captain growled, "What's taking so long. I should have you Kalish whipped." He spat out the words, the engineer not bothering to hide his expression of disgust at the foul stench of the Scarren's hot breath. At first, he had behaved around the Captain like he was accustomed any other Scarren, sycophantic and subservient. The technique had served him well in the past, but for some reason his behaviour had only made the Scarren captain more difficult to work with, if that was possible.
"Your insistence that I divert significant numbers of my people to repair the weapons systems has increased the completion time for repairs on the Hetch drive" he retorted angrily "We would have been underway long ago if we'd stuck with my original plan." He knew he was pushing things dangerously, but the anger and irritation of two whole cycles caught up with him.
"If you hadn't pushed the engines so dangerously we wouldn't be in this situation," he continued. "This is your fault not mine!" The Scarren gave a growl of anger, and raised a heavy arm, but Vashna stood his ground defiantly.
"Kill me, and this ship will never move. You'll never get your battle." He said carefully.
The captain gazed at him, anger seething behind his eyes. Due to unplanned drop out of Hetch, they were already several arns overdue for arrival in the scheduled exercise area. The captain lowered his arm, clearly prepared to let retribution wait for another time, and stalked off.
Vashna shivered slightly. The Captain's agitation was understandable, the delay could lose him his position or worse, but perhaps there was something more to it than just that. The captain had been appointed suddenly, clad in the grand but noticeably worn uniform of an officer of the warrior caste. He had never worn the uniform again, which general consensus among the crew was because the dreadnaught was no longer a military vessel in active service, but he wasn't so sure. Because of his position, he had spent some time in close quarters with the captain immediately after his arrival, and he alone had noticed something. The armour and insignia of the Captain's uniform had been battered, almost to the point of shamefulness, especially for a Scarren of such apparent high status. Clearly the Captain had a history, and from his bitterness and the evidence of the uniform, a shameful one.
The captain's name was Karza, nothing more. He was an outcast, disowned by his family, stripped of his clan's titles and honours. No longer was he Captain Karza of the prestigious 27th Strike Fleet, Born of the fire, trusted of the emperor, conquerors of Notilian cluster, and dozens of other titles, earned by a hundred generations of his clan, stretching back into history. No, for the last 8 cycles he had just been Karza, 8 cycles of exile, on that rock of an outpost, in charge of alien scum and slaves.
But now, finally he had a ship again, even if it wasn't an active fleet vessel. As he had sat in his cabin during the refit, drinking Raslak, he had consoled itself that it was a start, perhaps his chance to get back into the Imperial fleet. But his hopes had seemed to die every time he left the cabin to enter the station, and encountered the traitorous scum of the 253rd. Despite the secrecy surrounding the refit, rumour and gossip had spread amongst the enclosed community of the station, which had only been spurred to new lengths by his arrival.
He only once attempted to mix with other Scarrens, tired of the presence of so many Kalish, but no sooner had he entered the drinking establishment, than all the Scarrens present had begun sneering at him. They called him weak, traitor, and many other such names. He had never gone again. Only one name had he not heard, coward, but that was only because no one had heard of him. He knew they knew nothing of his past, but to be insulted and mocked by a bunch of drunken traitors, who had turned and fled, that burned more than anything he had suffered since his fall.
He was an outsider, worse still, due to his banishment and court-martial, in Scarren society he possessed less status even than one of the cursedly slow Kalish techs working on his ship. By law he couldn't even own a weapon! Only his patron had ensured his current position had given him back a fraction of his former status and power. To be born with nothing was bad, to be born with everything, only to lose it all, was worse. Karza would not lose it, not again. It was why he was pushing the crew so hard, why he could not stand the idle sycophancy of the Kalish. Their false subservience only irritated him now, something he would have found inconceivable before, and worse still, it just slowed things down. Now he had an opportunity!
His patron had insisted the ship be on station for the trial, and that it had to perform well. His patron had a lot riding on the success of this project he knew, even from the limited briefing he had been given, and so did he. They were to engage in war games with one of the 253rds shabby but still far more modern dreadnaughts, to test the performance of several the new systems developed by the Kalish and installed aboard his command.
Or at least, they had meant to have done so, but due to the engine trouble, the ship was already five arns overdue to have arrived at the remote system in the uncharted territories selected as the site of the tests. That delay was the source of his current ill temper. The accursed Kalish were, micron by micron in their slowness, causing any chance of his reinstatement to slip away.
There had been a combat element to the tests, necessary to test the improved defensive and offensive systems aboard the hulk, and he had been looking forward to showing up the arrogant Frellniks aboard the opposing vessel. It had become almost an obsession for him. He so wanted to dishonour them further, to prove he was superior, for he knew that the technology at his disposal, out of date ship or not, would give him a major advantage in both surprise and raw firepower.
In doing so, he had thought happily, he would have proved not only that his patrons work was justified, but that he was a loyal and capable officer worthy of reward. Now, he was beginning to suspect, that would never happen. He slammed a scaly claw down on a console, the anger and irritation raging through his hot veins, the blow leaving a noticeable dent in the metal. He felt rather than saw the chief artificer's disapproval, and with difficulty restrained a low growl from issuing from his mouth.
A sudden sound issued from console, the offending speaker built into a bank of controls located in a cluster around the captain's throne. The buzzer was loud and irritating, designed to carry above the chaotic sound of battle and the shouting of orders that filled a bridge during glorious battle. Karza stalked hurriedly over to it, and with surprising dexterity hit a button to open the voice channel. As he did so he saw from the display built next the speaker that the internal transmission was being routed from the compartment that housed the consoles and interfaces of the technicians manning the dreadnaughts powerful communications suite.
"Bridge here," he answered.
"Captain, we're picking up a faint transmission from a nearby system."
"What kind of transmission?"
"Definitely Scarren, on a subspace frequency."
"Was there a signal ID code? Did the source of the transmission identify itself?" he asked, not bothering to hide his surprise. As far as he was aware, his was the only Scarren vessel in the area. They were well off the major shipping lanes, and only their own engine failure had caused them to be here in the first place.
"Negative Sir. No ID Code, but it's definitely coming from a ship. There's another thing, the message was encrypted, a Scarren Kaish 2 transmission, the system is running it now."
Karza straightened up slightly at that news; a coded high priority military transmission originating in a desolate and supposedly uninhabited sector of the Uncharted Territories. What the frell was going on here? "If there's no ID code how can you tell it's from a ship?" he said curtly, privately curious.
Military identification codes were highly formulaic, the seemingly random jumble of numbers and letters when run through a strict database in fact clearly indicated from what kind of vessel or facility a signal came from, as well as the rank and signal priority of the commander. Licensed civilian vessels also possessed a less complex equivalent. Signals without identifying codes naturally weren't that uncommon; there were always those who did not wish their identity to be traced, pirates or smugglers usually. To receive a signal without any form of identification code, but whose contents were encrypted in Scarren military code however, that was definitely unusual bordering on unheard of.
"The transmission frequency Captain. It's being broadcast on a ship to ship subspace frequency. Plus we've plotted the source of the signal, we know almost exactly where it's coming from. At that distance the signal's not powerful enough for an orbital or planetary signal, got to be from a ship. Signal decryption will be complete in 10 microts. We're sending the navigational data to your terminal now."
The captain twisted his head to gaze at the small monitor built into the console to his right. He blinked as he registered the system in which the signal had originated, and the distance between it and the dot representing his command. True it was only a couple of minutes away at hetch eleven, but beyond the range of what he had thought Scarren subspace communications were capable of without comm. relay station assistance. Located along with several other major systems such as gunnery and sensors in an armoured caisson several decks below the comparatively exposed bridge, communications had been significantly expanded during the refit to house several new banks of recently developed and therefore bulky equipment. Even after the expansion the compartment was still cramped and dark. The senior communications tech overseeing the project had once boasted to Karza that the new equipment had the power to transmit and receive signals at ranges twice that which had previously been possible. Perhaps it had been more than just an idle boast.
Before he could finish reflecting on the possible advantages of this, the bodiless voice of the comms tech spoke again. "Decryption complete Captain, as per procedure for a Kaish signal, I'm feeding it directly to your station."
He gazed at the terminal, waiting for the download to complete, inwardly grateful that even if much of the crew were Kalish scientists and techs, he did at least possess almost two hundred experienced personnel, currently manning vital stations such as gunnery, sensors, communications and navigation. The console chimed softly to indicate the download was complete, and the decrypted signal popped up automatically. Karza bent to read it.
He straightened his neck in surprise, and read it again. As he gazed at the letters of the translated signal, he felt a sudden fire ignite in his chest. With ever increasing happiness and hope, he read the signal again; just to be sure he wasn't imagining it! He slammed a hand down on a control, and the dull whooping blare of the call to battle stations rang throughout the ship.
The chief artificer hurried over, his mouth already forming into words of complaint at the disruption of his pathetic schedule. Karza viciously cut him short. "We've received a distress call. A squadron of Strykers is under attack from an unknown vessel. We're going to assist. Bring the Hetch drive online NOW!"
The Kalish was momentarily stunned but he swiftly recovered. "I've told you, we haven't fully repaired the damage yet. If we go to hetch before the drive is fully calibrated the ship could be destroyed," he protested loudly.
Karza dropped a hand to his sidearm threateningly. "It is my duty as a Scarren officer to help. We will take this ship into battle and we'll do it now, or I'll have you shot." he growled, the roar of battle already rising within him.
The kalish was heedless. "You have no authority to take this ship into a fight. You only command the ship, I am in charge of the overall project and my orders strictly dictate that we..." he gulped suddenly and fell silent, for the barrel of Karza's pistol was suddenly at his throat.
"You will obey my orders traitor, or I will kill you and find someone else who will," thundered the captain, his eyes blazing. The Kalish was clearly a coward and a fool. What better way to test the new systems than in an actual battle. What better way to show his worth, and regain his honour, than to destroy a real enemy. What was embarrassing a bunch of traitors next to that!
The Kalish looked very scared, but his eyes were still defiant. Nonetheless, he reached for his personal com, and began to give the necessary orders. At Karza's orders, the helmsman eagerly and promptly began to turn the vast ship ponderously onto its new heading, as eager as his captain for the chance to see battle. He was a Scarren, one of the dozen or so aboard, and Karza knew how lucky he was that his patron had provided the extra experienced crewmen to help man the dreadnaught during the exercise.
He turned to the speaker once more. "Tech, are you still there."
"Yes Captain, standing by." The tech's voice was steady and perfectly ordinary, as if he had not just heard his senior officer threaten to execute the chief Artificer over the open voice channel.
"Send our ID signal. Inform the Strykers we are on route to assist," he ordered, before pushing the button to kill the channel.
"I've still got workers on the outer hull." Vashna pointed out belligerently.
Karza didn't care, the Kalish was beaten. Vashna was clearly a coward. In fact Karza couldn't have killed him, if he had done so his patron would have had him torn apart, for the Kalish was too valuable, more valuable to his patron than Karza himself. But the Chief Artificer was a coward, and had given the orders the captain wanted anyway, clearly too scared of himself to think properly.
"Better get them inside then, before they fry!" he growled, then gave a vicious smile of amusement as the Kalish shuddered slightly, and hurried to recall his workers before the vicious energies of a dreadnaught's hetch drive charging tore them apart.
A few microns later, the dreadnaught's engines glowed blindingly, and before the vast bulk of the ship space seemed to ripple as a powerful subspace bubble began to form around the hull. The dreadnaught surged suddenly forward, and vanished into FTL, leaving behind more than one tiny space suited corpse to drift forever in the vastness of space.
Open Space: Uncharted Territories
Aprox 15 minutes earlier.
The Stryker squadron had split apart, having quickly learned the dangers of attacking their prey in a clustered formation. The first defensive shots from the unknown ship had annihilated one of their number immediately, the intensity of the aliens fire forcing the remaining three ships to break off their attack and frantically take evasive action. Now they attacked instantaneously from all sides and vectors, seeking to split their target's fire long enough to get within weapons range.
In addition to a compliment of anti-ship missiles, stored in internal magazines, the squadron's Strykers each possessed a potent energy armament. Each mounted a quartet of heavy calibre pulse cannons, short ranged but very formidable. Their high rate of fire and heavy calibre made them ideal weapons for the vicious little attack ships, their advanced engines allowing them to launch devastating close attacks on larger vessels before accelerating out of range of return fire. It wasn't for the faint hearted of course, but Stryker commanders were masters at launching vicious slashing attacks on unprepared enemy formations. A couple of squadrons of Strykers could and had challenged fleets of larger but less manoeuvrable capital ships. Against slower cruisers or civilian vessels they were lethal.
But the unknown warship was proving to be a far tougher opponent than most. The Strykers had carried out a text book attack, emerging from Hetch drive within 200 metras of the target, and almost immediately launching a salvo of forty conventional anti-ship missiles against the engines of their target, before closing rapidly to enter weapons range. Beyond around thirty-six metras, the plasma bolts rapidly lost cohesion, range being sacrificed for a higher rate of fire. The Strykers crews were quickly learning how much of a problem that was.
The first inkling any of the Scarrens had that they were facing something more than a weakly armed spy ship, was when their prey shrugged of a missile salvo that would have disabled a light cruiser. The next was when, long before they themselves entered energy weapon range, a stream of blue energy bolts tore into Stryker Four and blew it apart. Things from their perspective went steadily downhill from then onwards. It had rapidly become apparent that they faced a far more powerful vessel than originally suspected. The sheer weight of fire being thrown out by a single ship exceeded anything they had previously encountered from a warship of that tonnage.
Abandoning their attack, the squadron had instinctively scattered, each captain attempting to withdraw and reform. Either their opponent's gunnery computers weren't up to much, or they were just poor shots, but all three remaining ships had escaped the terrifying salvos practically untouched.
Unfortunately, however poor the enemy's gunnery might have been, there was nothing wrong with their guns. More than one officer aboard the surviving ships of the squadron shivered slightly as weapons fire continued to streak by them at ranges far exceeding that of any known ship mounted energy weapon. It had been a fixed point in military tactics for almost a thousand cycles that energy weapons were short ranged, with maximum ranges for ship born weapons rarely exceeding more than 70 metras. Beyond that range plasma weapons became rapidly ineffective, the charged bolts loosing cohesion, with most races relying instead on missiles or lasers for long range strikes. Whatever weapon this was, it was new. The commander of the squadron wasn't worried. The bolts of energy being fired from the enemy's batteries were disturbingly numerous and disturbingly fast, but they were also reassuringly poorly aimed. His crews, he thought, could handle it.
Unfortunately, reflected the squadron commander aboard Stryker 01 bitterly, as he clung desperately to the arms of his command throne while his helmsman fought to regain control of his ship after a particularly violent evasive manoeuvre, I might have been wrong! His ship bucked violently, a near miss carving a trench along the plating of the Hammond side hull, before the helmsman managed to bring the ship back under control, pitching upwards to dodge the next stream of incoming fire. His vessel was approaching from astern and below of the target, swinging violently from side to side as thrusters fought to keep the attack ship from being hit by the fire from a pair of large turrets.
The remaining two ships in the formation were attacking from either flank, deliberately drawing fire away from his attack on the engines. The tactic was working, but both of the decoy vessels were showing clear signs of damage from the intensity of fire being hurled at them, one leaking atmosphere, another missing half of the starboard weapons fin. Worse still, none of their fire was hitting the target. Every time they fired their weapons impacted on a shimmering silver-white energy field that had so far easily defeated every attempt to damage the hull of the alien vessel.
As he watched, another vicious fusillade erupted from the guns of one of the attacking Strykers, this time lasting several microts. Her captain had clearly spotted the same thing as his senior, and had tried more firepower. It didn't work, the bolts intended to shatter a pair of turrets impacting once again against a previously invisible silvery-white field of energy, well clear of the intended target. It sparkled brightly at the impact, but held firm. The intended target, the pair of turrets which had originally been targeting him, vengefully returned the favour. Rotating on their mountings, they began spitting a storm of blue bolts back towards their attacker, forcing the decoy ship to break off its attack as it was bracketed.
He snarled angrily, half impressed at the wondrous technology, half worried. Who the hezmanna were these people, and where had they got such amazing technology! Thankfully the decoys had done their job, drawing fire, but his situation wasn't much better. To avoid being targeted by a number of currently obstructed turrets, his helmsman was forced to maintain a dangerously narrow angle of approach. Unfortunately, that meant that the remaining turret firing at him had a much easier target. There was little that could be done save jinking the ship up or down or from side to side, and hoping the thin armour held.
They were already approaching weapons range, but as the Stryker roared towards its target, desperately continuing to dodge incoming fire, its weapons remained silent. If they couldn't break through at range, the commander had reasoned after the first attacks had shown the lack of effect of his weapons against the enemy defence screen, close and attack at his heart. Obedient to his steady orders the helmsman dropped the bow slightly, aiming the sharp bow of the attack ship like a spear at the slender form of the fin housing the target's hammond side engines. The ship sped onwards, the great bulk of the target growing scarily fast microt by microt in the forward portal.
30 metras. Maximum range, but still the cannons built into the bow remained silent.
25 metras: The glow of the engines began to fill the screen, the helmsman's throat was parched with nerves and concentration.
24 metras, 23, 22, 21. At 20, a stream of scarlet fire burst from the front of the Stryker, the flash of the bolts almost blinding. The deck plates noticeably shaking beneath their feet as all four cannon in the attack ship's bow discharged. A jet of pure energy seemed to momentarily link both ships together. The scarred commander stared hopefully. He knew from experience that a weak point in defence screen technology was around the engines. Scarren scientists did not know why, although there were theories, but it was a weakness the Imperium's spaceforces had learnt to exploit. The shimmering barrier emerged out of nowhere. He clenched his arm rest, waiting for the plasma to burn through, to rend and scorch. He expected, longed, to see the plasma bolts eat deep into the engine housing, expected secondary explosions. Instead, yet again, the defence screens took the devastating torrent of fire and stopped it dead. It glowed mockingly for several microts, sparkling slightly the points where the Stryker's fire had impacted, and then the view was gone, as the helmsman, alone keeping his head, frantically hauled the ship away from the impending collision,
Main dorsal navigation thrusters, secondary thrusters, emergency and docking thrusters, all discharged violently, pushing the Stryker's nose down. The hull groaned and shrieked with the sounds of overworked metal, as it was placed under extraordinary pressure. The commander had deliberately held his fire until the last minute, trusting in the skill of his helmsman. That trust was well merited; the Stryker avoided a devastating collision with just drenches to spare, skimming their target's hull so close that the previously unidentified shields protecting their target shone a constant yellow at the attack ship's proximity. The heavy batteries of turrets along the larger ship's hull fell silent, either because their targeting systems were useless at such close range, or maybe because the crews manning them were unable to believe that anyone would perform such a suicidal manoeuvre.
For several invaluable microts the alien weapons remained silent, the Stryker unmolested, her commander seizing the opportunity to push his ship into a steep twisting dive away from the larger vessel. Fifteen microts later she was on an almost vertical vector away for their target, so as to present the smallest possible surface towards the enemy gunners.
The tactic worked, for although a mass of weapons fire came close, only two bolts actually connected, inflicting only light damage. Unfortunately, one of them knocked out several of the powerful engines clustered at the Stryker's stern. Several more overloaded, and the attack ship's formidable speed dropped to barely half of its previous velocity. Semi-crippled, her helmsman instinctively tried to avoid further damage, banking the ship clumsily to present undamaged armour to further incoming fire, the sluggish movement a mockery of the ship's previously lithe agility.
A further trio of bolts slammed like hammer blows into the hull, cutting through the armoured hull like it was paper to superheat internal atmospheres and incinerate crewmembers. The fourth bolt of the salvo missed, but the damage was done. The remaining engines died abruptly as the conduits feeding them were severed, the force of the impacts throwing the ship into a dizzying spin.
Entire sections of the hull depressurized explosively, the entire aft section was ripped open, the engine and generator rooms being the worst hit. The forward section was relatively undamaged by comparison, but even so one enormous bolt punched a gaping hole through one flank. In the command deck the force of impact hurled crew out of their seats, the captain hurled against a console with sickening force. A marine hauled himself up of the deck, his left arm twisted uselessly, and staggered to his senior. A quick glance revealed the commander was dead, a further glance at a still working terminal revealed the desperate state of the ship. Almost all major systems were damaged or failing. Engines were gone, weapons were gone, and power generation was steadily dropping.
As he stood there, the sub-officer wondered why the attacking ship didn't finish them off. A quick glance at the patchy data from the surviving sensors supplied the answer. Both surviving Strykers were launching full on attacks on the target, all attempts at evasion abandoned. The enemy vessel had shifted its focus to the bigger tactical threat, and was manoeuvring sharply, trying to bring most of its weapons to bear on one of them, but their speed was making it difficult. Even so, the Stryker's clearly could not last long against their powerful foe.
Staggering over to the communications station, with some difficulty he hauled the dead bulk of the comms officer from where he lay draped over the console. As the dead body slumped to the deck with a loud thud, the wounded Scarren surveyed the console, noting with relief that it was still active, for he himself did not possess the rank to access communications. The flashing data on the console showed that power levels were dropping rapidly throughout the ship. Working swiftly he managed after a few microns to reroute auxiliary power to the still intact transmitters, and sent out an encoded distress call, choosing the highest encryption in the computer.
He wasn't a fool, but neither was he particularly senior. As such, he was unaware of the standing orders strictly forbidding any subspace communications traffic in system. Subspace communications, however advanced were not undetectable. Subspace chatter could be detected at distances of several light years, however weak the signal, and triangulated to determine their point of origin.
To counter this, the ships of the squadron had unknown to him been using secure short range radio transmissions until now, but the wounded sub-officer didn't know that. He knew the installation was secret, the Scarren presence there clandestine. He knew too that should the unknown ship escape, that secret would become known. Unaware that his simple and well intentioned actions would prove to have such dramatic and long term effects on the galaxy, he hit the control to transmit the signal.
To describe exactly how Sheppard was controlling the Hydra, went beyond current human understanding. The scientists on Atlantis and the SGC had some idea of course, which had allowed the eventual development of Dr Carson Becket's gene therapy, but that therapy, however useful, was at best a crude solution to controlling ancient technology. The small artificially induced quantity of the ancient gene chiefly served as a key to unlock the gene protected intricacies of most ancient systems, but for those who possessed the gene naturally in strength such as General O'Neill or Colonel Sheppard, it went so much more than that.
Ancient control chairs, such as those utilised in cityships like Atlantis, or defence outposts, like the Antarctic outpost back on Earth, did not in fact possess any apparent physical controls beyond two gel-filled pads in the armrests. They served rather as a conduit, simply put, a neural link between the operator and the systems operated by the chair. It was the operator's mind that did much of the work, joining with the technology allowing mental command and control at speeds that were inhumanly fast.
The Hydra's commander's chair was more practical in design than the seemingly delicate and crystalline control chairs, but it possessed the same form of interface. It was of course somewhat redundant, for in a normal situation, the dreadnaught was run by a crew that numbered in the hundreds, and in a combat situation, the ship possessed dozens of individual weapons stations, not to mention a dedicated drone control chair. It nonetheless possessed the capability to control the entire ship, although the Lantean Captains had rarely exercised it, preferring to use the link to communicate with their crew and other vessels at speeds faster than verbal communication, allowing them equal to superior tactical coordination over the Wraith's own biological means of neural communication. Their job was to command and give orders, not to waste valuable concentration on controlling their ships personally.
The figure currently seated in the Hydra's command chair however, was being forced to do so. The attack of the four alien ships, seemingly identical the one which had launched the boarding party and later been destroyed, had come as a complete surprise to Sheppard. There hadn't been any note of warning from the sensors whatsoever. Not the slightest trace of a hyperspace window, nothing. One moment there was clear space, the next four alien vessels in space directly ahead of him, launching a missile attack. Before he could react, the missile salvo was splashing impressively but futilely against the Hydra's fully powered aft shields. Return fire from the aft batteries in response had swiftly shredded one of their number and the enemy had hurriedly retreated with energy bolts whizzing past their ears. It had been only for a moment however; just time enough for Sheppard to contact and alert the others, before they had come on again.
From the sensor data, is had almost immediately became apparent to him that their still unknown attackers were heavily outmatched. Their ships were small, fast and extremely agile but that was really all that could be said for them. They had energy weapons, rapid firing plasma weapons if the interpretation being fed him was correct, but their fire was splashing harmlessly against the Hydra's shields. Their attackers themselves apparently lacked shields of any sort, apparently relying instead on armour, little protection against a bolt from the Hydra's main ion batteries.
The aliens lack of shields puzzled John. Even in its earliest stages the SGC's Prometheus, slower and less manoeuvrable than these ships, had possessed rudimentary shields inspired by reverse engineered Goa'uld technology. These ships in contrast appeared much more advanced than that, their sleek appearance and energy weapons (which the SGC had only possessed for two years) suggesting a race well accustomed to space travel.
While they posed no immediate threat, their presence was worrying. John guessed they had come in response to the distress call transmitted by the ship encountered earlier. What bothered him was their tactics. These people clearly didn't recognise an Alteran warship when they saw one, not a huge surprise, but even so, their sensors should have warned them that they were seriously outclassed. When he had first seen the Hydra, he had been seriously intimidated. Even without his knowledge of what ancient technology could accomplish, the ship's dark bulk and serried ranks of weapons had struck something deep within him. He was beginning to think these people knew something he didn't. Unless they were suicidally brave, or insane, they must realise they were outclassed.
He wasn't ruling out insane, not after the crazy stunt one of them had just pulled. For a few agonising seconds he had thought the enemy ship was actually going to ram the Hydra, but after yet another attack that had done little more than scratch the shields, it had dodged at the last minute. It had been a close run thing though. Sheppard had seen Elizabeth actually shut her eyes in horror, and he himself had involuntarily clenched at the armrest of the chair, had watched his knuckles turn white.
He wasn't sure if the shields would protect against a ramming attack. He had read of instances in the Milky Way where Ori vessels, whose technology was equivalent to the Hydra's, had withstood ramming attacks from Ha'tak vessels belonging to the Free Jaffa. These ships were far smaller, but he didn't want to find out how much damage they could cause should they choose to ram the larger vessel. At worst the Hydra could be badly damaged, stranding them god knows where in the Universe.
It was partly for this reason, and Elizabeth's insistence, that he was no longer aiming to kill, but to disable or discourage. If he managed to drive them off without destroying them, or at worse disable their engines, then there would be no threat. For several reasons, this tactic was proving difficult.
For one thing their attackers had learnt fast, and were now from attacking from multiple vectors, which was proving a right pain in the ass to deal with. The Hydra's targeting systems were incredibly advanced, but he was only one man, for all his experience of multi-tasking in combat as a pilot and officer. Controlling the ship at the same time as sustaining an accurate but non lethal fire on three different attackers, approaching from three different directions was taking its toll. The concentration necessary to utilise the chair was a bit intense to begin with, right now it was proving decidedly wearisome. It didn't help that he hadn't slept in almost 24 hours. His mouth was dry, and he felt the first twinges of a headache. Just wonderful, he thought angrily, his teeth gritted in concentration.
It was with some satisfaction therefore that shortly after what he guessed to be the lead ship of the enemy formation nearly rammed him, he saw a trio of ion bolts slam into its hull as it tried to draw out of range. Its engines visibly died, and it began to drift, tumbling away out of control. As he mentally swung the Hydra into a turn, opening up the firing arcs for a clearer shot on one of the remaining ships, he saw with satisfaction that while the enemy ship was heavily damaged, life support was apparently still operating. A mission kill then, enough to take the ship out the fight, but not to kill the crew. Hopefully he could manage the same with the remaining two.
Fat chance John, he thought bitterly, with the way your luck is running today, you're more likely to blow them away with a poorly aimed shot. Another problem with his task was overkill. The Hydra's main pulse arrays were so ridiculously overpowered, compared to the opposition, that even after he had deliberately dialled down their firepower, he felt sure a couple of bolts would physically tear one of the enemy ships apart if they got hit in an unlucky place.
Not that in all fairness he would mind if that happened, for all his unspoken promises to Elizabeth. The idea that concerned him the most was that the tactics of the small ships yapping at the Hydra's heels were an attempt to buy time, to delay him until the arrival of reinforcements.
In that light, 'permanently' silencing their current pursuers made strategic sense. The thought that dozens of ships might be converging on their position, some probably bigger and nastier than those attacking them, which he guessed were scouts, was not one to provoke calm and peaceful thoughts. Especially as even though their tactics weren't actually slowing him down much, they couldn't get the hell out of dodge yet anyway. Rodney was still working on the hyperdrive, for newly discovered damage to the navigation system had forced him to revise his original estimate several times. It was so unlike the scientist to take longer than he predicted that John hadn't pushed the matter, concentrating on the defence of the ship.
While most of his concentration was on tactical and navigation, there was still a corner of his mind free for his paranoia to run full pelt. Their attacker's method of arrival bothered him. The absence of any hyperspace window was bugging him. If their attackers hadn't come from a hyperspace window, where had they come from? When Elizabeth had suggested over the radio that the attacking ships might have been cloaked, Rodney had swiftly stamped on the idea. He had pointed out that if their attackers possessed cloaking technology, then it would have to have been pretty good to get within a thousand kilometres.
The Hydra's sensors, even at reduced capacity, were both very advanced and very powerful. Far more likely, was that they possessed some other form of FTL, which McKay said was possible, if unlikely. The primitive nature of the ship's attacking them, at least in contrast to the Hydra, did loosely support that idea. This brought Sheppard back to his original worries, which proved no more cheerful the second time around. If the enemy did use some other form of FTL, then the Hydra's sensors probably couldn't track it! If they weren't able to track it, then there could be ships converging on his position right now.
Just then a series of ion bolts from one of the forward batteries impacted the bow of one of the two remaining ships attacking them. The ship, which like its companion had seemingly abandoned all subtlety at the near destruction of their comrade, had been less than a hundred kilometres away, weapons spitting, when its helmsman had jigged instead of jagged. It had just been bad luck. Through the Hydra's sensors he saw the ship disintegrate as its reactors were torn apart releasing all their energy at once, and saw the flash of to starboard with his own eyes through the bridge windows. There was no debris. The explosion had entirely consumed the ship. Feeling suddenly tired, John hauled the Hydra around onto her original heading. Astern, the glow at the black dreadnaught's stern deepened, as titanic amounts of energy were expended to accelerate her vast bulk away from the shattered debris her anger had created.
Through the sensors, he was watching the remaining ship still under power. It was out of position, taken aback by the Hydra's sudden acceleration and altered course. Nonetheless its head came around sharply, and with a fanaticism which had him wondering as to its crew's sanity, charged blindly towards him. It opened fire well outside weapons range, and continued to fire, sending salvo after salvo of hatred towards them. He didn't fire back. It couldn't hurt them, it couldn't even reach them yet, but still the salvos came.
Slowly the range began to lengthen. The enemy had the advantage in acceleration, but the Hydra's reactors continued to push her through the blackness at ever increasing speed, and their pursuer just could not compete. She slowly began to drop astern. The range lengthened, but still they fired, and fired and fired. It was madness, crazy and in it's own way, slightly terrifying.
He sat, watching the small dot dropping steadily astern now. With a grimace, he leant forward in the chair, disengaging the link. As the network dissolved, he found himself feeling rather small. He was surprised to find he was shaking slightly. His throat was disgustingly dry, and he wished he had some gum to chew. He wondered idly what he had done.
The volley that had obliterated the first of the attackers had been an instinctive reaction. His nerves being what they were right now, he'd simply targeted the nearest attacking ship and opened up with everything that would bear. Sheppard knew that for that alone he would have been chucked out of the Air force, but at the moment he honestly couldn't care. As far as he was concerned, these people (whoever they were) had tried to board his ship and fired on his people first! From that moment he had viewed them as hostile until proven otherwise, and if not for the presence of Elizabeth on the bridge (and his respect for her experience and friendship) he would swatted them all without mercy. He was an officer in the United States Air Force, a soldier; it was not his job to second guess himself. He followed orders, killed the enemy and did what had to be done to save innocent lives, and tried to avoid awkward moral situations.
He was also a distinguished graduate of the Academy. He was trained to think. Right now, he found himself in circumstances that reminded him disturbingly of that first year in Pegasus. Cut off from authority, forced to make ill-informed decisions that with hindsight could potentially affect the lives of millions. He hated it. He would protect his people; he would get them all home. He promised himself. After that, well, he wasn't going to cross that bridge before he came to it.
10 minutes later
John turned his head slightly, observing the slim form of Elizabeth. She was leaning against a console, seemingly staring into the mid distance. He scowled slightly. His anger was not directed at her, but at what see was doing. Or rather, what the replicators had done to her, to allow her to do what she was doing. She was in the ship's systems, watching their pursuer. She had the gene. He leant back slightly, embracing the connection and once again, he could feel her. Somehow he could feel the faint presence of her mind in the network. He couldn't describe it. It felt like, a glow, but that did not do it justice. It felt, strangely comforting. In the empty vastness of the Hydra's network, another mind was strangely comforting. Neither of them understood. Both of them were worried.
They were alone on the bridge, Teyla and Ronon assisting Rodney elsewhere on the ship. They hadn't been there when it happened, something which he could guess Elizabeth was grateful for. It had been an accident, pure chance they two of them had noticed. She had asked him not to tell the others for the moment, and he had kept his word. He was worried about her. She was hiding it well, but he could tell she was worried to.
They were all a bit on edge right now, but with Elizabeth he knew the signs well. He didn't understand it, didn't want to think too much about it. Now he had time to think, he couldn't stop though. They, or at least Elizabeth, weren't just carbon copies. The bloody replicators had done something. Changed her somehow, changed all of them? Used them! They were guinea pigs, mice in some fucking ascension lab project. They were people, and the replicators had toyed with them. He wondered sometimes if the ancients had actually been much better at times.
He felt the bitterness and anger rise within him, and quashed it mercilessly. Now was not the time for it. He gazed at Elizabeth, and wandered what the hell they were going to tell the others. She had the gene; she had never had the gene, the gene therapy had never taken with her. What the hell had those bastards done!
He shook of his agitation, and slipped into the ship's network once more. With just a thought he brought up the navigational computer, and grimaced slightly as he got the mental equivalent of an out of order sign. He was still able to pilot the ship, but he was completely locked out of the hyperdrive control systems. He tapped his headset. "Rodney, I don't want to bug you, but how you going with that navigation system?"
"I'm getting there. It'll probably be another ten minutes or so. Is there a problem?"
"Not yet. I'm getting a little worried about more visitors though." Sheppard admitted truthfully.
"Yeh well, you aren't the only one. Hang on a sec, let me try something"
Sheppard duly waited.
"Ok, try navigation again."
Sheppard leant back again, and send a mental command to the ship's systems. With relief he felt the chair link to the navigational computer, something that he had not been able to accomplish a few moments previously. He accessed the hyperspace controls, and attempted to lay in a course. The hyperdrives read as fully operational, as did the control systems. Unfortunately, when he attempted to access the sensors, to choose a destination, the system refused to accept his commands. He knew why. To plot a hyperspace course, one had to know exactly where you were, as well as where you were going. Unfortunately, neither Hydra's computers, nor her crew knew their location, exact or otherwise.
"Good job McKay, I'm back into Navigation. Drives and control systems read as ok, but there's still a problem somewhere with the navigation sensors."
"I know. I'm working on it now. I have to repair several damaged connections between the sensors and navigation. I don't think I can reroute this particular ones, at least not easily. I don't know where they keep the spare parts so I'm having to cannibalise some spare parts from non-essential systems.
"What systems?" asked John, slightly suspiciously.
"Nothing major, but if you must know, I'm pulling them from a set of consoles in one of the Officer's Cabins. You've got to see these by the way, the replicators stocked them. There's lights, mattresses, everything."
"Later Rodney," said John, "concentrate on the repairs ok. You four can choose cabins later. The captain's quarters are mine."
He shut off the radio, imagining with a small grin the look of outrage surely featuring on McKay's face right now. He wondered idly if McKay had done that deliberately, as an attempt to cheer them up. It wouldn't be the first time. Most people couldn't claim to know the real Rodney McKay. Few save his close friends or those who had been on Atlantis from the beginning were really aware of the good man behind the ego.
"He probably did that deliberately you know?" Elizabeth spoke, seeming to read his thoughts. It was a skill that even after 4 years he still found a little disturbing. He gazed at her as she walked across to him, choosing to perch on a console in front of the Captain's chair.
"Probably" he agreed, leaning back and closing his eyes for a second. The temptation of sleep was strong, but he ignored it.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, sounding a little concerned.
"Tired." he grunted, "Thirsty" he added after a few moments as he felt the dryness in his throat.
She proffered a canteen, which he took with a nod of thanks. The water was cool. It tasted wonderful. He took a few gulps, savouring the liquid then lowered it from his mouth.
"Got to save water," he explained, "at least until we know if this ship has any."
She looked thoughtful. "I wonder if the replicators actually installed plumbing?" she said with a sudden grimace.
John thought about that for a moment. "They've copied the design pretty faithfully in most things" he mused. "This ship is a copy of a Lantean one remember, I wouldn't be surprised if it were identical right down to the water systems. They kept the gene activation remember, and it's not like they need it."
She nodded. It was true. The Asurans did show a remarkably consistency in including bits of technology tailored for biological life in their constructions. He supposed it was something to do with their desire to emulate their progenitors, but he highly doubted that a toilet was the key to Ascension. Whatever the reason, hopefully the Hydra followed the same pattern, and possessed the amenities necessary for human beings aboard. If not, then they were going to have a pretty hard time if they were forced to spend any period of time aboard her. However strong the Hydra's defences might be, she was no good to her crew if she proved uninhabitable.
Weir looked up at him suddenly. "How about food?" she commented with a look of concern. I doubt they stocked that. We can't have much save for what we brought aboard from the Jumpers. We don't know where we are, or how long it will take Rodney to fix the main sensors. We could be forced to live aboard this ship for a while."
"We'll see how much we've got in the way of rations when we've found somewhere to hide. We can always ration it." He pointed out, gazing absently out the bridge windows at the vastness of space slipping by. "Anyway the jumpers are always quite well stocked with emergency water and rations anyway remember." He pointed at her "You made it standing orders after Bates team got cut off for a week and had to live on bugs."
Or rather, the other Elizabeth had, but he didn't say that. It raised a smile though, as he had hoped, the two of them remembering with amusement the expression of disgust upon the tough Sergeant's face following his team's return. By John's count, the man had spent almost 2 hours washing his mouth out after his teams return. Well, after he had reported in anyway. Good man, if a little security obsessed.
The nickname 'Garibaldi' had done the rounds for a good few months after the nasty incident with Teyla, much to Bates annoyance. It hadn't helped when Teyla had demonstrated her telepathic abilities due to Wraith DNA, considering some of the hardcore Babylon 5 fans among the scientists. Carson's report had been particularly amusing on that score, for neither Elizabeth nor himself would ever have labelled the down to earth Scotsman as a sci-fi fan.
He shook his head slightly, stupid to get distracted, day dreaming like a teenager. He was wasting valuable time. Concentrating, he ran a systems check, reviewing the state of the ship. As he had expected, the ship proved to be in much the same condition as it had been prior to the enemy attack. The most serious probelm, after the dodgy sensors, were the malfunctioning internal communications systems but that was about it. A damaged airlock and innumerable minor faults to secondary systems completed the picture. All in all, the newly christened Hydra had come rather off well, considering the baptism of fire she had suffered over the last day or so.
Every weapon, battery, and individual turret registered as fully operational. The shield emitters were cycling properly, bleeding off energy absorbed during the attacks; all shield control mechanisms were fully operational. Those emitters on the lower hull aft were registering minute signs of strain, but automatic repair systems and backups were already engaged, even though every reading was well inside acceptable tolerances. Only the drone launchers were non-operational, firmly powered down. He had decided early on anyway to try save the irreplaceable and deadly projectiles, but damage control systems also reported a fault with the targeting element of the launchers.
Apparently, like so much else aboard, the damage to the sensor feeds had had repercussions. He wasn't sure how serious the damage was, but until he was sure, the drones were firmly off limits. He had no desire to experience a misfire or something similar, not with firsthand experience of just how deadly even one drone could be in the wrong place. Once they were fixed though, they had a lot of them to use, he saw, checking the magazine figure and whistling softly. The bays were packed with tens of thousands of drones, enough to replenish Atlantis and Earth's stockpiles significantly and still leave several hundred for the Hydra herself.
Elizabeth heard his whistle and gave him a questioning look. "We're stocked," he said, answering the unspoken question. "We've got a full load of weapons, enough drones to replenish earth and Atlantis's stocks significantly. And that's not all"... he said, still burrowing in the ship's computers. "We've got a ton of stuff aboard; the cargo bays are full to the brim."
"What were they planning?"
"Not sure, but seeing as we've apparently got a Milky Way configured Stargate and DHD stowed somewhere, I'll let you make your own conclusions." He said with feeling. "Have a look yourself," he said gesturing to the console she was seated at. It was a gunnery station, but all consoles gave access to the ship's databases.
She nodded, swivelling in her chair to face forwards, and placed her hands on the crystal interfaces in front of her. Sheppard felt the new current in the network, could subtly trace her presence through the ship's systems. Frowning with concentration, he tried something out. Concentrating on the glow of energy that was her mind, he thought intently of 'sending' the data about the ship's cargo bays to that glow. She spun in her chair, one hand still on the interface, and looked up at him. She was smiling.
Encouraged, and more than a little amazed, he thought of a conversation he had listened too between McKay and Zelenka in the Cafeteria. Concentrating, he imagined using a radio. "Elizabeth" he thought, still feeling a little sceptical. The reply when it came made him jump slightly.
"Not So Loud!" He looked up, eyes slightly wide, knowing full well that it wasn't his ears that had heard that. She was looking at him, her features composed, but after a few moments she cracked, and grinned. He realised his mouth had fallen open slightly, and shut it hurriedly. "I think you're concentrating too much" she offered aloud, "you don't need to shout." He was gaping again. He felt a little foolish. Ok it wasn't something completely new, he had used ancient technology for years, was used to the neural links in the Jumpers and Atlantis. Presumably this was that taken to its logical extension. He had never done anything quite like that before though. Very Cool! Even after four years, Ancient technology could still surprise him. He tried again.
"How about now?" he tried, trying to concentrate less.
"Better" he heard in his mind, as Elizabeth nodded at him. It was, he thought, more than a little strange to see her nod as if answering a question, but not actually 'hear' anything. He swallowed suddenly, as a horrible realisation struck him. She was acting far too calm, as if she'd done this before. How did she know how to do this? She couldn't have learnt from her memories of Atlantis, to the best of his knowledge Elizabeth had never once used the chair.
She must have noticed his grim look, and the smile in her eyes died slightly. "What is it?" she asked. He ignored the question. She leant closer. Oh god, what was he going to say?
"Nothing" he said, knowing even as he said it that his tone wouldn't have fooled her. He raised himself stiffly out of the chair, brushing rudely past her, and without thinking descended the few steps to the fore section of the bridge. He stopped at a random console, his hands clenching on the back of the chair, and pretended to study the crystals. He heard her follow him, had known she would. She faced problems. Elizabeth had always faced problems. But was this Elizabeth? He cursed himself, but the thought hung in his brain, refusing to be forgotten. He thought she was, his instinct told him she was, 'but what else,' whispered his treacherous mind.
"John" she said.
He said nothing
"Colonel what is it?"
He felt a dart of grim humour at the use of his rank. He wasn't John Sheppard; he wasn't the military leader of the Atlantis expedition. The rank was no longer his.
"John, talk to me?" she said again, and he caught the faint trace of worry in her words now.
"Nothing! Just feeling a bit overwhelmed," he mumbled.
There was silence, and he wondered if she was looking at him, but he kept his eyes firmly on the console. He tried to lose himself in the soft beauty of the crystals, the regular patterns of the controls. He wanted her suddenly to leave, felt the shame in that, knowing she was just trying to help. She gasped suddenly. She's guessed he thought numbly, still refusing cowardly to look around, to face her hurt expression.
At that moment there was a dull rumbling roar and the ship suddenly shuddered violently. Caught by surprise John and Elizabeth staggered as their bodies were pulled sideways by the momentary loss of gravitational stability. Automatic alarm klaxons began to sound and the sensors screamed a warning.
Hull Number 8774/SY776/68D, Uncharted Territories: 28th April 2004 (Earth Date)
2 Hour 51 Minutes Post Hydra's Emergence From the Wormhole
The dreadnaught shuddered, her hull tensing dangerously at the force of the violent reversion to real space. The overtaxed drives strained to maintain the entry envelope, the damage suffered earlier making the process far more dangerous and rough than usual. On the bridge Karza watched, his eyes red with anticipation, his breathing deep and fast, as his race's biology increased the flow of blood this brain and adrenaline in his veins. The natural process had been altered, cycles ago, genetically improved like all Scarren soldiers to dramatically increase his strength and reaction speed. It was an amazing feeling, although some clans privately tampered with their biology to dangerous levels, making their members almost undefeatable on the battlefield, but dangerously quick to anger. Not all the myths of Scarren brutality and viciousness were Peacekeeper propaganda.
Karza's clan were not so foolish, they would not have risen so high in politics otherwise, but even he felt the rush, and longed to unsheathe his claws against an enemy face to face. As the ship shuddered, before his eyes the blurred view of normal space vanished as the ship dropped out of Hetch, resolving into the normal star studded ocean of blackness.
"Scan the system," he growled, "standby all weapons batteries."
Ahead of him along the hull he saw the ship's remaining heavy turrets move. Rising slightly from their locked transit positions, they began training slightly from side to side as the gunners tested their systems.
Just as the report of all weapons fully manned and standing began to filter back from tactical control, the sensor technician reported a contact.
"Unidentified Vessel detected, bearing Hammond 80 degrees. Contact's current heading at Treblin 84 degrees relative. Current Range 117 metras, and decreasing."
"Type of vessel" demanded Karza, his eyes on the tactical plot. The unidentified alien ship was moving fast, very fast in their general direction, on a course to cross their bow. At the speed it was travelling, it would be within extreme weapon range in less than 25 microts.
"Alter course," he barked at the ship's pilot, not waiting for sensors to come back to him "bear 075 degrees Hammond, ship's head down 20."
Slowly the dreadnaught began to alter course, then quicker and quicker as the bow thrusters helped push her around, while her nose dropped 20 degrees towards the plan of elliptic. She was several kilometres above the 2 dimensional plain emanating from the sun utilised by navigators to judge positions in planetary systems, and the move dropped her nose towards her target, allowing most of her gunners to track the target.
"Forward batteries report locked on target, ready to fire." Came the report from gunnery, but Karza ignored him. They were still just outside weapons range anyway, but not for long, frell that ship was fast.
"Identity of unknown vessel," he roared at the sensor station again, his mind still fairly clear despite the hot burn of battle lust in his veins. He wasn't going to shoot down a potentially allied ship.
"Ship type reads as unknown warship. Not match to our databanks, not a known enemy vessel."
Karza growled, and was about to throw something at the sensor officer, when a cry came from communications. "Captain, we have contact with one of our Strykers. Contact is hostile, definite hostile, must be destroyed at all costs."
"OPEN FIRE" he yelled at targeting, and saw the first fabulous bolts of red fire spit from the fore turret, as it tried a ranging shot. The target was bearing off their treblin bow now, his orders allowing his gunners a far easier target of the than attempting bows on shot. Then all three of the massive quad turrets stretching along the foreword hull fired almost instantaneously, firing double salvos of twin plasma bolts as both sets of barrels cycled. He watched the bolts in, and saw with glee that the enemy was making no attempt to evade.
Sheppard frantically tried to regain his balance, his head jerking up instinctively to stare frantically around. As he grabbed frantic hold of a handhold on the console, his eyes flashed to the forward viewports. He was just in time to see an enormous bolt of crimson energy impact on the shields directly in front of him. He flinched instinctively, but the shields did their magic. He watching spellbound for a couple of seconds as more bolts splashed heavily across the forward shields, which glowed a silver-white as they absorbed the fury of the alien weapons, though the shockwaves where another matter as the Hydra continued to shudder violently with the strikes.
Snapping out of it, he traced the source, hanging on as the ship shook at each and every impact, his sharp eyes following the fierce salvos off to port. The brightness of the bolts against the darkness of space meant he couldn't see much, but what he did see was not encouraging. He stumbled backwards, bumping accidentally into Elizabeth, who gave a cry of pain. He ignored her, running to the bridge chair. Another jolt made him bang his knee painfully on a console, before he hurled himself bodily into the embrace of the Captain's seat.
A flood of information descended on him, as in milliseconds the ship told him everything that was going on. He immediately altered course, attempting evasive manoeuvres. Then he returned fire. He held nothing back this time, made no attempt at damage limitation. Charging at full power, sucking down energy from the ship's vast reactors and the ZPM, the turrets along the upper hull erupted in blue fire. Rolling the ship as he had, to present her dorsal surfaces to the enemy, seven heavy turrets had a clear line of fire on the enemy. Nearly half the Hydra's entire main pulse weapon armament opened fire, sending several thousand megatons of energy per minute through space.
The blue ion bolts sparkled prettily as they tore through space, heading towards the five kilometre long alien vessel that had attacked her, which was even now attempting frantic evasive manoeuvres. Sheppard watched the expression on his face utterly merciless, as the salvo bolts ripped into the massive enemy vessel which had attacked him.
The barrage of ion bolts slammed into the Scarren dreadnaught with searing, white hot force, hull armour capable of withstanding almost point blank fire from the main weapons of Peacekeeper Command Carriers vaporised under the enormous force of the Hydra's weapons, inflicting terrible damage. The elderly ship rocked, shook like something so large shouldn't be able too. The majority of the bolts slammed into the dreadnaught's treblin flank, ripping into manoeuvring systems, fuel bunkers, sensor masts and flesh. Number two turret vanished, disintegrating into millions of pieces no longer than a finger, as two ion bolts slammed into it. The two quadruple turrets on either side of it were completely untouched, their crews momentarily oblivious to the glowing crater which was all that was left of several thousand tons of metal, alloys, thick armour and a flesh.
From outwards appearances, the bow of the ship was completely gutted, but Scarren ships were built tough. Even against that devastating salvo, the inner bulkheads and armour held, torn and tattered in places, but it held. The inner sheaf of armour did what it was supposed to do, protect the vital reactors, power conduits, life support systems and magazines. The crews shook themselves, rerouted damaged conduits to reserves, and continued to fight. Another salvo erupted from the remaining turrets, only to splash with commendable accuracy, but little effect against the Hydra's fully powered shields.
On the bridge of the Scarren ship Karza was roaring in a savage mix of anger and delight. Delight because this looked to be a vicious and glorious fight, anger because it looked unless he did something to change the stakes, he might lose. He grabbed the shaking form of Vahna, and hauled him up to his face, holding the tall kalish effortlessly several feet off the ground by his collar. "Power the defence Screen!" he shouted at the seemingly stunned chief artificer, shaking him bodily.
Vahna gazed into the terrifying eyes of the Captain, and choking slightly on the Scarren's foul breath, nodded shakily to one of his juniors. A series of technicians ran to a set of consoles at the rear of the room, and nervously began to throw switches and hit buttons on a set of consoles. Karza still held Vahna, but was watching out the tactical display. He hissed in anger as he saw yet another salvo dissolve in a silver-white shimmer against the energy shield that hugged the enemy ship like a glove. The enemy's black hull erupted in another massed salvo of blue flashes, and fearfully he turned to roar at the technicians.
"HURRY YOU SCUM, OR I'LL USE YOUR WORTHLESS BODIES AS ARMOUR FOR THIS SHIP!"
The technicians knew it wasn't an empty threat, and with increased haste hurried to power up the as yet untested system.
They weren't quite quick enough, for with another vicious heave, the enemy salvo smashed into the dreadnaught's flank. Consoles sparked as the damage caused vicious power surges throughout the ship, the already overwhelmed power grid struggling to cope. In communications, a panel exploded, flooding the compartment with poisonous gases, while red lights flickered across the damage control panel, as yet more compartments were vented or destroyed utterly by the enemy fire. Right now, the dreadnaught's forward hull looked a lot like someone had taken a knife to it, vast sections of exterior hull hanging loosely, torn or ripped free from their remaining supports by the force of the enemy fire.
Then from a point on the forward hull a bubble of red energy formed, before spreading swiftly aft, the glowing field washing over the damaged sections of hull as it formed like a protective shield. The glowing bubble continued aft, extending into a long vaguely elliptical field, necessary to contain the fins and raised command tower of the damaged ship. The defence screen glowed brightly, and with relief, Karza watched the next few bolts of the enemy's fire wash over it like water over a rock. The enemy had ceased to fire massed salvos now, and was now keeping up an almost continuous fire on them. It was still running though, and that gave Karza a sudden surge of confidence.
"Alter heading, 50 degrees treblin," he barked with a tone of savage joy, "We'll go right down his frelling throat!" The move would take them practically across the enemy bows, and give as yet unengaged and undamaged aft turrets of Karza's ship a chance to open fire. It was also extremely dangerous; collisions were common whenever this risky tactic had been used in the past.
Vahna, whom Kazra had by now let drop to the decking, was clinging desperately to a console. His face was white, his skin almost as pale as a Nebari, which for a Kalish was saying something. He watched the ship's head come round, and felt her shake as she began to accelerate. Even in his terror his eyes ran over the sensor data.
He gazed at the enemy vessel in wonder, mouth open as he watched that amazing energy barrier stop the dreadnaught's fire dead. It appeared to operate on completely different principles to their own defence screens. Incoming fire simply vanished against it, while their own spread much of the charge around the shield bubble to dissipate. He practically hissed as he saw for the first time the power readings coming off the ship. That was impossible, wasn't it? If they had that much power available to power their defence screen, then it must be almost impossible to break through.
At that moment the entire ship shook once more, and glancing forward he just caught sight of a fragment of number three turret as it blew into pieces and impacted against the armour of the bridge tower. The entire structure shook, but it held firm.
Karza yelled at him. "How did they penetrate our defence screen?" he said, advancing threateningly towards the chief artificer.
Vahna hurriedly backed away. He saw the problem immediately; the defence screen was incomplete. On the Hammond side foreward there were gaps, some of which were large enough for enemy fire to penetrate. As he watched, another blue bolt slashed through a gap, tearing a deep furrow in the armour of the upper hull, the glowing edges clearly visible on the monitors.
He pointed. "The defence screen is not fully formed" he answered hurriedly, turning the captain's attention towards the image. "It was not fully tested; there were gaps in the coverage we have not yet managed to seal. Enemy fire is slipping through!"
"I don't know how." He pleaded desperately, "We're still studying the technology. Can you turn the ship so the gaps are less exposed?"
"No," growled Karza, and his red eyes turned back to the tactical once more, growling as yet another bolt slipped through the defences to savage the hull. The remaining forward batteries, one and four, were still firing, as were the aft guns now, but the enemy ship's defences were still holding firm.
Vahna was at the consoles at the rear of the compartment, trying desperately to maintain the defence screen cohesion. The defence bubble was weakening dangerously, less than three microns of fire had already brought it down from eighty to less than twenty percent cohesion. Worse still, the bubble had been expanded dangerously wide to provide cover for the rear fins. The program largely managing the defence screen's operation was salvaged from a Peacekeeper computer system, and he still didn't fully understand it. It had taken weeks to get it to make the screen form properly around the hull, and even then he'd had to compromise. Now it was close to collapse.
Not wanting to die, Vahna began frantically to manipulate the energy of the DS, not entirely sure what he was doing. After a few microts he saw with relief that his frantic idea had worked. At the cost of depleting the Treblin side defences, the engaged Hammond side was being reinforced, and as he watched cohesion rose to forty seven percent. There were still gaps, but that couldn't be helped. He looked over at the forward part of the brigde compartment.
He winced as he saw their projected course on the holographic display. At their projected heading and speed, they would intersect the enemy course barely two or three metras ahead of the enemy ship, that or ram him amidships.
"Keep firing" Karza was roaring, interspersing his orders with guttural Scarren curses so thick and fast that Vahna's couldn't keep up with them.
Vahna looked around at his team. They were all thinking the same thing, he could tell. They were going to die if they stayed here. The crazy Scarren was going to get them killed, probably because he was too juiced up on his own dreck. There were shuttles in the aft section, slow and unarmed, but hetch capable. They weren't stocked to prevent desertion by the Charrids aboard, but Kalish biology meant that he and his team didn't need eat for almost a quarter cycle yet. They could do it. Maybe die on a shuttle, or definitely die here. He was already considering how best to sneak his people out of the compartment, and get an evacuation order to his work crews without the Scarrens noticing, when a quartet of Scarren marines took up station by the hatch. His dismay must have shown on his face, for he heard a harsh laugh, and turned to see Karza. The Scarren's eyes were red with rage, but he was laughing, a terrible, merciless laugh.
"Back to your stations, you scum. I'll have you whipped for this. The first one to try escape gets a belly full of plasma! If you survive that, I'll personally skin you, and use your mangy hide for a tunic!" he pulled out his sidearm, and levelled it at them. The deck shook violently, as another salvo slammed into the weakening defence screen, but the barrel of the gun was steady as a rock.
Dozens of green eyes moved from the Marine's carbines to Karza. He fired a shot impatiently at the ceiling. As one the Kalish technicians moved back from where they had gathered nearer the hatch, and returned to their consoles. The rest of the Scarrens in the compartment drew their weapons, and kept them ready. Karza grabbed Vahna, and grabbing his right arm painfully, dragged him hurriedly towards the main engineer's position.
The Scarren gazed at the data being displayed. "The Screen is failing" he said, and Vahna despite the iron grip on his right arm, actually started. He had thought the Scarren had shown no interest whatsoever in the DS research, but apparently he was wrong. Somehow he knew enough to interpret the complex data being display, but how. However he knew, the Beast was right, the screen was losing cohesion rapidly, a few more shots and it would probably fail completely.
He watched the Scarren nervously, trying to guess what was going through that huge, reptilian mind. More shots thudded into the hull, and with a last tone of warning, the shimmering red barrier protecting the ravaged ship collapsed. As the screen died, a fierce salvo of blue bolts tore into the bow, ripping apart the remaining bow turret. The ships were now so close, that the aft turrets couldn't bear, and had fallen silent microts ago. A strange stillness seemed to fall over the compartment, as each crewman inwardly prepared themselves to die. The Kalish stood silently, while the Scarrens as one gripped their weapons, preparing to die with a weapon in their hands like a warrior.
Then, suddenly, after what felt to Vahna like microns, but was probably only microts, Karza gave a vicious snarl beside him. The savage noise broke the sudden stillness, the crew seemingly to jerk awake as if after a dream. The Scarren strode across the compartment, his every gesture oozing defiance, until he was seated in his command throne once more.
"Engine room, full power to engines," he snarled into the intercom. "Helmsman, give me manoeuvrability now". He turned to face the view screen, his face a mask of rage, his hands flying over the controls in front of him. He tapped in a course correction, then pressed the button to confirm the action. Almost at once, the dreadnaught's battered bow began to swing drunkenly round, glowing brightly with reflected energy. Slowly, slowly, it came around, until she was barrelling through space, her shredded hull groaning under the stresses of her untouched engines, on a collision course direct from the enemy ship.
"Prepare to Ram," growled Karza. The Scarrens on the bridge roared in approval, chanting their clan battle cries, and waited for the glorious end to come!
On the Hydra's bridge Elizabeth's eyes widened in horror as through the viewports she saw the savaged alien warship turn its bow right towards them and accelerate. Their intent was obvious.
"John," she started to say.
"I see it," John replied, his tone glacial. Tapped into the gunnery station as she was, she had access to the feed from the targeting systems. Even with her limited experience of using the ship's sensors, she could clearly see the decreasing distance between the alien vessel and their own. She felt the Hydra start to roll onto its side, fresh weapons batteries on the starboard side opening fire as they were unmasked. She dragged her concentration from the horrifying figures in front of her to glance at John. His face was twisted into a mask of concentration and anger. She could almost sense his hate, as the Hydra's batteries crashed out, more and more as secondary weapons opened up, the entire ship shaking from the recoil. Fire streamed forwards over the bow, terrifying in its intensity, equally terrifying because it came from only one ship.
She watched Ion bolts crash into the alien ship, visibly inflicting terrible damage to the already battered ship. Secondary weapons fire also flayed the enemy vessel, not as powerful as the main pulse batteries, but if anything more terrifying. Entire sections of hull were shredded by the smaller more numerous bolts, stripping away decks and armour, making entire sections of hull drop away in their entirety. A she watched, an entire section some two hundred meters long broke free of the battered hulk, as with a series of internal explosions ravaged sections of the enemy's outer hull experienced structural collapse. Debris and atmosphere erupted from the gaping wound, water droplets freezing instantaneously to form a shimmering cloud, through which weapons fire tore prettily. But still the ship came on, inexorably, it's blazing and battered bow, heavily pockmarked with weapons impacts, heading straight for them. She shot another panicked glance at John, who appeared momentarily oblivious to the impending collision.
His eyes still blazed, and then to her relief, she felt through the changing motion the ship's course alter. Glancing forward, she saw that the Hydra was levelling off and turning, turning fast, not away from the enemy, but towards him. For a moment she sat stunned, disbelieving, half believing that Sheppard intended to ram the alien vessel as the Hydra's bow continued to swing, she saw his plan. The Hydra was turning faster than the enemy could react, had caught the enemy off guard with her unexpected manoeuvre. She saw the shattered bow of the enemy vessel start to swing round, terrifyingly close now, but Sheppard was ready. As the enemy vessel blundered around, like a great wounded predator, the Hydra's bows dropped. She dived smoothly underneath the enemy's shattered hull, debris rippling off her silver shields, all her batteries momentarily falling silent. As she passed under the enemy keel, clearing it by scarcely 200 meters, the turrets along her ventral hull elevated directly upwards, and as Weir watched, fired just one devastating salvo directly into the enemy's ravaged hull. No armour could have stopped it, but little to no armour survived on the enemy's lower hull anyway. The ion bolts sliced cleanly through deck after deck, penetrating the armour belt around the inner hull, finally slamming into the inactive number 2 reactor. The reactor was cold, but the ion bolts detonated inside the volatile mass of energy with the force of a bomb. On her amidships engineering decks, the crew had less than a second to understand what had happened, before the reactor compartment disintegrated.
As the Hydra sped away from the alien ship, a massive explosion amidships the enemy lit the blackness of space. Moments later, the ravaged hulk began to break apart. That one devastating salvo and the reactor explosion had sliced cleanly through her keel, a devastating wound from which there was no recovery. Compounded by the heavy damage to the forward sections, the loss of the keel and so much of the amidships section caused a catastrophic loss of structural integrity. The massive stresses on the ship's hull meant that it literally began to tear itself apart. Cracks spread rapidly away from the immediate damage, structural supports crumbling faster than the crewmembers fleeing to the intact stern compartments could run. As the decks supporting the only partially scrammed number 1 reactor crumbled away, secondary explosions inside the hull compounded the damage. Just 20 seconds after that last devastating salvo, the ship broke apart with just a silent eruption of escaping atmosphere, just forward of the bulkhead protecting number three reactor. The two sections drifted apart, until with a titanic explosion, the still active number 1 reactor breached in the bow breached, igniting the forward magazines. The resulting fireball enveloped the entire ship, the edge of the blast wave buffeting the fleeing Hydra as Sheppard, guessing what would happen, hurried to get clear. When it dissipated, the battered stern section was revealed far from the site of the explosion, blackened and melted. Of the bow, there was no sign whatsoever.
For a long while after that devastating explosion, the bridge was dead silent. The two people in the compartment were both suddenly feeling very tired, and rather sick.
After about a minute John reached for his radio. "Rodney, you guys ok?" he said in a flat voice.
"We're fine. What happened?"
"We were attacked, again. They tried to ram us, I stopped them."
"Yeh. Tell me you've finished!"
"I've finished. Navigational sensors are online. We're good to go. Take it slowly ok."
"Good Job. Ok. Standby,."
Sheppard dropped his hand from the Radio dully, and leaned back in the chair.
"Where are we going?" asked Elizabeth.
"As far away from here as I can safely take us," said John tonelessly. All he wanted to do was hide, but where? He examined the data from the newly repaired sensors. He couldn't see far, still didn't know exactly where they were, but the surrounding space within range contained over a dozen star systems. Finally he selected one. It was a binary star system, the stars both pulsars, which he knew from his high school astronomy would emit high levels of radiation. It wasn't much of a plan, but hopefully the radiation from the neutron stars should make it easy to hide from sensors, and their shields would protect them from any dangerous exposure.
With a thought, he carefully brought the navigation system online, readying the ship to jump. With a soft humming, the Hydra's Hyperdrive engines began to power up, sucking down energy from her ZPM and reactors. Deep in the engine room, McKay watched the data cautiously. Every system read as in the green, but once they had found somewhere to hide, he intended to give everything a serious check over. After he'd had a good 12 hours sleep of course, that and had some food.
"Looking good Sheppard" he radioed.
"Understood. Hold on!"
On the bridge John took a deep breath. He was about to engage the final jump, when space seemed to split open before him. He was more than a little surprised, for he hadn't just yet given the command to form a hyperspace window. He soon realised it was not the familiar blue green distortion of a hyperspace window however, but something else entirely. Before he had time to wonder what was happening, a vast shape emerged from the distortion at high speed. It was a huge ship, and it was heading right towards him.
John just froze. His brain seemed to turn to ice. His nerves were shot. He was tired, dehydrated and utterly drained. Any military doctor would have taken one look at him, and relieved him of duty instantly. But Sheppard was the pilot, and there was no one else. He didn't move. Part of his brain was screaming at him to move the ship, to get out the way before it hit them, but he did nothing. For a few seconds, he just sat there, like a statue in the Hydra's command chair.
A few seconds was all it took. The huge ship that had dropped out of FTL right in front of them looked almost identical to the one that they had just destroyed. Only bigger, much bigger, John reflected dully that life was just plain unfair. The Hydra's sensors lit up as they were lashed with targeting systems, mental and audio alarms blaring in his ears. He wrestled with his shock, tried to recover, tried to react, when it happened.
From either flank, twin jets of focused green energy slammed into the enemy ship. With strange detachment, he watched the immensely powerful particle weapons fire slam into the bow of the enemy ship, the armour glowing from the force of the impact. Nothing stopped them. In less than two seconds, all four beams pierced the entire ship from bow to stern, ripping through millions of tons of metal, alloys plastic and flesh like knifes into warm butter. For what seemed like minutes, the enemy vessel just hung there, gutted, and then its vast main reactor blew. A monstrous explosion blossomed from the core of the ship as titanic amounts of energy were released. For a few milliseconds the shattered hull contained the massive energy wave. Then the remaining bulkheads were swept away like sand before the sea, and the dreadnaught disintegrated into a maelstrom of fire and liberated energy.
The Hydra kept going, ploughing into the fireball. Chunks of the destroyed ship crashed into the shields protecting the Hydra making the whole of her shields flare brilliantly as they repelled the energy. At the back of John's mind warnings sounded, indicating that shield strength was down to fifty-percent, the sheer kinetic force of the chunks hitting the shields at the speed they were going badly stressing the generators and emitters.
A moment later like a phoenix emerging from the flames, the Hydra glided into open space – the glow of her shields fading as the last of the energy was refracted back into space. Behind her the few remaining fragments of the dreadnaught glowed with internal fires as the last of their atmosphere was consumed, left astern like so much other space jetsam.
John turned his head to stare at Elizabeth. She was sheet white, shaking in her seat. She gazed at him with unseeing eyes, and snatched her hands away from the console violently, clasping them in one another. She rose unsteadily, crossing to the rear of the compartment, and left the bridge. He looked away, stunned. The navigation system beeped at him, and with an effort he dragged himself back to the present. Carefully, and ever so slowly, for fear of making a mistake, he initiated the jump into Hyperspace, ignoring the frantic radio calls from McKay to ask what had happened.
Ahead of the Hydra, space split open, and too late, far too late for two of her crew, the black ship finally escaped into the safety of subspace. Inside the hull, a little way down the corridor leading to the bridge, Elizabeth Weir slumped against the bulkhead, and slid slowly down to the deck. Silent tears began to fall from her face, to drop silently onto the polished deckplates. After a moment, she brought up her knees, hugging them desperately against her chest, and tried to forget what she had done.
This Chapter is Dedicated to the Memory of Don S. Davis
An extraordinary man, and fantastic actor, who will be sorely missed.
Rest in Peace George
End of Chapter 3
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