The trip back to J-27 seemed to pass rather quickly. Fortunately, Finn's limited first aid was able to keep Krieger stabilized long enough to get the injured volus into a cryo-stasis pod. It wasn't Finn's first choice, but it would at least give them plenty of time to get to Ilium once they refueled.
As they drew near the station, Finn activated the comm and said, "Mannon, this is Finn; I'm about to dock for refueling."
There was no reply. Frowning, Finn said, "Come on, Sherle, I know you're listening."
Jake peered at Finn around the seat. "That's bonkers. She's always watching the array like a hawk."
Finn shook his head and took the controls. "She's probably in the bathroom or something. Whatever the reason, we can't wait. I'm docking."
Once the docking tube was in place, Finn hopped out of his seat. Jake moved to follow, but Finn stopped him.
"We're not staying long." Finn told him. "I'm just gonna let Darsan know what's going on. Could you go to the med bay and check on Krieger?"
"Sure thing, man."
Finn hurried down the docking tube and into the station. The main room was vacant at the time, so after authorizing the fuel transfer, he slid down the ladder to his loft and grabbed what tools were convenient, just in case the Ulasomorf needed any touching up during the trip.
"Finn! Are you okay?" Jake asked, his voice sounding unnaturally loud in Finn's earpiece.
"I'm fine." Finn told Jake as he lifted his toolbag. "What's wrong?"
"A buncha ships are heading our way, and I don't think they're friendly."
"Hanar?" Finn asked, remembering Darsan's argument with Opylius.
"Dunno. Sensors can't tell what they are."
Finn couldn't help but wonder if the arriving 'guests' had something to do with what happened to Krieger.
"He told me they knew about J-27." He muttered.
Shaking his head, he said, "It's not important. I'm on my way back now. Prep us for launch, okay?"
"You got it."
Hearing the sound of someone climbing down the ladder, Finn grabbed the last few tools and said, "I was wondering where you were. Look, Krieger's been pretty badly hurt; we're going to head to Ilium and-"
He turned around in time to see a human in combat armor drawing his rifle. Thinking fast, he threw himself behind a stack of hull plating he kept on hand for small repairs. The soldier opened fire, but fortunately the plating was thick and heavy enough to protect him as the soldier continued to fire.
"Who the hell are you?" Finn demanded, his eyes darting around for something he could use as a weapon.
Not responding, Finn's assailant started to walk towards him. Swearing, Finn dug in his tool pack for something heavy. As the man rounded the corner, Finn yanked out whatever his hand could grab and brought it down on the man's helmet.
The pipe wrench left a sizeable dent in the helmet. The man staggered back from the blow clutching his head, giving Finn plenty of time to yank the rifle from his grasp.
Aiming it at the guy's head, Finn demanded, "Now let's try this again; who the hell are you?"
The man pulled something off the side of his helmet. Immediately a hissing sound filled the room. Thinking it was poison or some kind of nerve agent, Finn quickly stepped back and covered his mouth. He needn't have bothered; the soldier fell over moments later.
Finn stood completely still for a few moments as the shock of what had just happened passed over him. Ironically, it was a bigger shock that snapped him out of it.
"Darsan! Sherle!" Slinging his toolbag over his shoulder, he started up the ladder to the main deck.
After doing a quick visual sweep of the main room, he hurried over to Darsan's room and banged on the door.
"Darsan! Darsan, are you there?"
"Hopeful; Finn, is that you?"
Finn breathed a sigh of relief. "Yeah, it's me. You can open the door."
"Cautioning; there is a soldier-"
"I know. He's dead."
"Alarmed; you killed him?"
Finn shook his head. "He killed himself. Some kind of self-administered poison gas."
The door slid open, revealing Darsan.
"Grateful; Thank you for dealing with him. I don't know what we would've done had you not arrived."
"We? Is Private Mannon in there?" Finn peeked around Darsan and saw Ensign Mannon lying on the floor in a heap.
As he hurried over, Darsan said, "Concerned; she fainted when the soldier first attacked."
Something hit the station hard. Finn steadied himself against the edge of Darsan's desk. For a moment, he was afraid the station had actually been hit. Given that the station didn't fly apart like the clump of junk that it was, he guessed the kinetic fields were still holding.
Darsan was somewhat less reassured. "Alarmed; what is happening?"
"Looks like that guard had friends." Finn said grimly. He picked up Ensign Mannon's limp form. "We need to get out of here, now."
He started to leave the room, but Darsan blocked his path.
"Incredulously; are you seriously suggesting we abandon this station? What do you know about those assaulting us?"
"Nothing. I mean, a little. Look, I'll tell you everything I know, but we gotta get outta here before-"
The station shook again. Finn stared Darsan in the eyes.
In as calm a voice as he could manage, Finn said, "If we don't leave, we're dead."
After a moment's hesitation, Darsan finally relented.
After making sure he had a good grip on Ensign Mannon, Finn hurried past Darsan towards the docking bay.
They were halfway down the tube when a shot managed to blow past the kinetic barriers and hit the station. The door to J-27 slammed shut in response.
Unfortunately, the door to the Ulasomorf slammed shut too. Finn banged on the door with his free hand, shouting, "Jake! Jake, get this door open!"
"I'm trying, man! Some kind of safety measure … don't worry, just give me a sec, bro!"
Finn realized that he could hear the sound of air being rapidly sucked out of the tube. He turned around and looked over the walls of the tube, saying, "There's a breach! It's not going to let us in until we-"
Another shot hit the station, blowing off the entire communications array. The tube shook, but thankfully the seals held. That still left their problem, though.
Finn set Ensign Mannon by the door to the Ulasomorf and hurried down the tube, looking for the leak. After a few panicked moments, he spotted the hole; a few cracks near the J-27 side of the tube. It wasn't a big leak at the moment, but there was enough suction for it to pull strands of his hair.
"I need something to seal it." Finn glanced around the tube, but nothing was available.
"Panicked; there must be something." Darsan said nervously.
Finn looked at him for a moment. His eyes narrowed.
"Jake," He said, moving towards Darsan, "Get ready to open the door as soon as the safety seals release."
"You got it!"
"Suspicious; what are you going to do, Finn?"
"I'm going to seal the breach. As soon as that door opens, you get Sherle inside, okay?"
Without waiting for a response, Finn yanked the wide-brimmed zebra hat from Darsan's head.
"Outraged; that is mine!" He said indignantly, but Finn was already halfway down the tube.
"Thank God he went for completely tacky." Finn muttered as he pressed the vinyl hat over the hole. The suction held it fast in moments, but the bowl was deflating fast.
The door to the Ulasomorf slid open. After giving his hat one last longing look, Darsan tromped into Krieger's ship with Mannon in tow. Finn ran towards the door with everything he had.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough; the bowl of the hat completely collapsed, and was promptly sucked through the hole, making it even bigger in the process. The door to the Ulasomorf started to slide shut.
Finn made a leap for the entrance and jammed the soldier's rifle into the doorway before it could close all the way.
"Finn!" Jake shouted from the other side.
Finn squeezed his way through, trying to ignore the sounds of the vacuum behind him get louder and the cracking of the rifle as the doors began to slowly crush it into scrap.
As another blast hit the station, several of the seals on the J-27 side of the docking tube tore loose. Fortunately, Finn was wedged in well enough to not get sucked out by the increased suction.
Jake and Darsan both grabbed Finn and yanked him through the hole just before the rifle's casing began to crack. In matter of moments, the now-bent rifle clattered to the floor as the door slid shut.
"Thanks guys." Finn breathed.
"Sulking; you owe me a hat."
Finn opened his mouth to respond when something shook the Ulasomorf.
Darsan barely moved; being a quadruped definitely had its advantages. "Alarmed; are we being fired upon?"
Finn was on his feet and moving in an instant. He raced through the ship with Jake hot on his heels until he reached the bridge.
"Better strap in, buddy." Finn said as he strapped himself into the pilot's chair. "We're going to make a run for it."
Once they were detached from the docking tube, Finn set course for the nearest relay. The Ulasomorf's engines roared to life; in a matter of moments, refueling station J-27 was just a blip on the sensor screen.
Unfortunately, there were four other blips closing in fast.
"Okay." Finn said grimly. "Let's see if you can keep up with this!"
He activated the FTL drive. The star-filled expanse beyond the front windows of the bridge leapt forward as the Ulasomorf accelerated beyond the speed of light.
Finn breathed a sigh of relief, but it turned out to premature; moments later, the four craft reappeared on the sensors, continuing to slowly close in on the Ulasomorf.
"That's nuts, man!" Jake said, "How can short-range fighters keep up with a freighter?"
Finn didn't respond. His eyes were as wide as they could open, but not from fear. He resisted the urge to blink as he stared out to the starry expanse whizzing past the ship.
As his eyes began to tear up, the streams of light began to separate into different colors, each seeming to angle away from the Ulasomorf's path as though deflected. The longer he stared, the more he could make out the invisible edges of the field around them, a bubble of energy with the ship in the dead center.
"All right." He whispered, his hands manipulating the controls as though they were merely an extension of himself. "Here we go."
The field around the ship began to waver as the ship slowly moved closer to the front of the field. As the field started to collapse, Finn routed as much power to the engines and the structural integrity field.
The universe lit up in an explosion of light and color. The ship shuddered and shot forward like a dog stung by a bee. In a moment, the ships behind them were left in the proverbial dust.
"Whoa!" Jake said, staring at Finn. "Are you ... streaming?"
Finn couldn't reply. His hands flew over the control pad, adjusting shields, managing power-feeds, and keeping tight control of the engine.
As the shuddering began to grow more violent, Jake asked, "Uh, Finn? Finn, we need to stop."
"Just a few more seconds." Finn whispered, tears streaming from his wide eyes.
"Uh oh." Jake leapt off of his chair and ran over to Finn. "Finn, snap out of it! We're clear!"
A small plug-like extension emerged from Jake’s side. A spark of electricity shot from the plug and hit Finn's leg.
"Oww!" Finn blinked and shook his head, muttering, "Jake? What are you-"
"Stop the ship!"
"Stop the …" Finn's face went pale. He hurriedly reversed the engines.
As the shuddering died down, Jake let out a relieved sigh. "Good work, bro. Those losers are probably still wondering where the heck we went."
Finn let out a half-hearted chuckle as he undid his safety harness. "Take over for me, would ya, Jake? I need to go check on the others."
"Sure thing. Where are we heading?"
Finn contemplated the question for a moment before shaking his head and saying, "I'll let you know when I figure that out."