This week, for The Subgenre Smash-And-Grab, the d20 Ring picked Space Opera and Technothriller.
The intelligence report appeared one letter after another on Commander Dane’s data-pad, red letters turning green as they were decrypted by the star cruiser Intrepid‘s onboard AI. He frowned, and turned to the lieutenant keeping pace with him as he strode down the corridor.
“Edelston, have Captain Poole join us on the bridge, please.”
Lieutenant Edelston nodded and ran off. Dane walked through the pressure doors onto the bridge, glancing around at the men and women at their duty stations.
“Shipboard communications are still down, sir.” The yeoman near the Engineering console was next to one of the ship’s best technicians, who was elbow deep in the circuitry underneath. “Last report from the Drive section was that the reactors are at 25% power. We’re not losing life support any time soon, but we’re essentially dead in space.”
“Damn it. Navigation?”
“We’re drifting deeper into the nebula, sir. Telemetry suggests we can remain undetected if we stay on this course for the next few minutes, at least. We got lucky, sir.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. I need a runner to get me an update from Drive.”
“On it, sir,” an ensign said, who promptly left the bridge. Dane turned back to the report in his hand. The AI could not communicate or transmit any new information with the system down, but archives were still available. The intelligence report was timestamped just before the sudden shutdown of communications and main drive function, a transmission from Fleet Command. Dane read it over again as the runner from Drive reappeared on the bridge, only slightly out of breath.
“They say we’ll have full function in ten minutes. They’re going to use power from the main gun to jump-start the drive.”
Dane realized what was going to happen, and handed the ensign the data-pad as he left the bridge. He jogged down corridors and slid down stairwells, stopping at one point to pick up a sidearm. In just over a minute, he was in the bowels of the ship, entering a maintenance area over the construct that ran its length. He drew his weapon and dropped through the hatch.
Poole turned, his arm around Lieutenant Edelston’s shoulders. His free hand held a plasma cutter, poised at her neck.
“Weapon on the deck, sir.”
“Edelston, are you hurt?”
She shook her head. Poole tightened his grip on her.
“I said, weapon on the deck.”
“I heard you, Captain. I’d like you to explain yourself, first.”
“We have to abort the mission, Commander. What we’re doing out here is wrong.”
“We’re observing fleet operations in the Sirius system, Bob. Nothing more.”
“Why not send a survey team to do that? Why send a star cruiser?”
“We’re the fastest and most capable ship in the fleet. We have an experienced crew. We were already on maneuvers in this area of space.”
“And we also have a goddamn moon laser as our main gun.”
“That’s just a colloquial term for it. You know its proper term is coaxial cannon.”
“Whatever it’s called, it shouldn’t be out here. Now, put down your gun.”
Dane studied Poole for a long moment. “I’ll take my finger off of the trigger, but I can’t put it down. Fair enough?”
Poole tightened his grip on the lieutenant. “I don’t want to hurt her, Dave.”
“Then don’t. Put down the torch and I’ll put down the gun, and we can talk.”
“Talk? What is there to talk about? I shorted the primary transfer coupling in the Drive section. I did it in such a way that killed our communications, for now at least. I know I’ll be court-martialed for this. There’s no discussion to be had.”
“You still haven’t told me why.”
“The Senate’s not popular back home. They need something to rally the people behind. A war with Sirius is a great motivator.”
“We barely have contract with Sirius. Why would they want to start a war?”
“Profit? Votes? Who knows? All I know is, a star cruiser with a moon laser is an extremely aggressive message to send, even if your orders are really just to observe. What were our orders, Dave?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.”
“What target did the Senate pick out for the moon laser?”
“Stop calling it that.”
“Why? It’s called a moon laser because they intend it to blow holes in moons. It can level cities from orbit in a flash. They sent us here to start a war.”
“Bob, please, let her go.”
Poole flicked the plasma cutter on. Edelston winced, gritted her teeth, but didn’t cry out. She looked at Dane. The ship’s commanding officer touched a stud on the side of his sidearm, and Edelston gave him a very small, almost imperceptible nod.
“What do you want, Bob?”
“I want us to go home. I want you to record and transmit full disclosure of our orders to every newswave station in the Colonies. I want the Colonial Senate to answer for what they’ve done, and what they intend to do. And I want you to put me in an escape pod as soon as we’re in range of the Outer Reach.”
Dane pulled the trigger. The sidearm, set for stun, hit Edelston in her mid-section. She gave a short, sharp cry as the electromagnetic charge blasted through her system, and she collapsed. Before Poole could react, Dane stunned him, too. The comm device on his belt chirped at him.
“Bridge to Commander Dane. Main Drive systems and communications restored, sir.”
“Excellent work. Tactical report?”
“Long-range scans indicate several Sirius frigates making for the nebula. They know we’re here.”
Dane frowned. He’d never agreed with their orders, and he wasn’t about to risk his ship and crew if they’d already been compromised.
“Plot a course for Station Theta. Get us out of here.”
“Aye aye, sir.”
“And I’ll need a medical team at the Foward Coax Bay.”
He looked down at Poole.
“You should have talked to me, Bob.”