In and Out of Time
“Neversail to all forces! Fall back! Fall back! To the inner perimeter! All ground units guide the civilians underground into the bunkers and keep them there. Defend them at all costs!”
“Never thought I had to make that call,” Winnibahn said silently to herself.
“What will we do, Admiral?” said the sweat-laden officer at the console, his face filled with doubt.
“We hold them off,” said Winnibahn, “hold them off as long as we can.”
Reports kept pouring in, some still cool-tempered and thoughtful, others panicking and screaming for help before finally being silenced. Even those reports were coming in broken, after the Neversail had taken days of constant barrage and several of the communications arrays had shared in the battering.
From the bridge tower, Winnibahn could see the deck guns swivelling and firing at the numerous fighters, frigates and boarding ships that continued to assail them. A few black craters dotted the deck where a stray missile made it through the shielding, but the fires had been since snuffed out. Just one boarding vessel landed and flooded the deck with numerous of the spry little killers, but the deck guns were just quick enough to sweep them away.
It was always a quick fix, and Winnibahn knew that with the rest of the fleet peeling back into the city, the fixes had to be that much quicker.
“Admiral, Admiral!” shouted the sensors officer, her hair out of its knotting and flayed all over, “we have a very large target approaching! Estimated distance, one hundred kilometres.”
“The Hand,” Winnibahn whispered, staring at the floor, “oh no....”
Winnibahn then looked up, “We have to buy time for Nywan. If the Hand brings its weapons to bear upon the surface, no one will be safe.”
“So we stand by here?” asked the pilot.
“We go out to meet them,” the admiral said, “and we may not be coming back.”
“Shouldn’t we bring more help?” the same pilot questioned.
“There is no more help!” Winnibahn shouted shakily, “we are all that’s left! We are the last line of defence. The other ships need to defend Nywan itself from the rest, so that leaves us. And if any one of here will not give your life to do the same, I suggest you remove yourselves from this bridge and hide away in your quarters for the last hours of your lives!”
The crew sat. Quietly, they sat and thought. Not a soul lifted themselves from their post.
“Meet them,” Winnibahn commanded, “send a frequency-wide message not to follow us. Tell them to defend Nywan at every available cost.”
<I cannot allow you to go out there,> said the clear and concise voice of Saferon over the intercom, <not alone, at least.>
“Saferon!” Winnibahn shouted, “Fuck, child. I thought you were dead!”
<Not far off,> Saferon replied, <you’ll need my help to take down the Hand.>
“What makes you think we need help with the Hand?” said the Admiral.
<Not just the Hand,> Saferon replied quickly, <the whole attack. I have tracked down the most common Bentorii frequency, the one that seems to be controlling them all! If we disrupt that frequency, we may be able to confuse them! Enough so to turn the tide of the war!>
“Admiral,” said the sensors expert, “I’m detecting the Jaegrynn. She is being pursued by Ma’guul gunships. I count five—no—six!”
<Not pursued,> said Saferon, <escorted! They are on our side. I have spoken directly with the Ma’guul leader, Guillius. He’s had a change of heart!>
“I see,” said Winnibahn, “I’d caution you not to follow us, but I doubt you’d listen. Just like your mother. Stubborn and reckless.”
<The frequency is fifty-five kilohertz!> said Saferon, <Jaegrynn’s jammer is disabled. Can you assist?>
“Our jammer was disabled, too,” said Winnibahn, eyeing the sensors officer, “but not for long.”
The officer understood and arose, “I’ll need to get down to the engineering bay.”
“Go,” Winnibahn nodded, looking to the younger officer next to him and tilting her head over to the newly vacant chair.
<We’ll do what damage we can,> said Saferon, <but from my readings, the Hand is ancient Oasiic, not Behraanese. It will be a miracle if we can puncture its shields!>
“How ironic,” said Winnibahn, “they went fucking crazy, but they still know their own ship when they see it.”
<Transmit that frequency to the others,> said Saferon, not allowing for digression, <if anyone else has a jammer, they can at least assist themselves and others around them by confusing them.>
“Why do you think that will work?” asked Win.
<They have a nerve bundle at the back of their heads,> Saferon explained quickly, <it responds to certain frequencies. I believe it’s a signal on the fifty-five-kilohertz bandwidth that is uniting them and driving them to fight. I don’t know any more than that and it’s better than nothing, so do it!>
Winnibahn paused to think for a moment, being so lucky to afford such a moment in the midst of the blaze of war.
“Scout ahead, Saferon,” said Winnibahn, “do not engage until we get there. I need some feedback on that ship. They can’t have captured it without having damaged something. Meantime, I’ll transmit to the rest of the fleet and get them to pass the message to the other Generals.”
“You too, Saf,” Winnibahn made a neck-cutting gesture. The younger officer picked up the hint and not only cut the transmission, but started up the next one to the rest of the fleet. He silently nodded to her, letting her know the channel was open.
Just fractions of a second later, out of the front view of the bridge tower, the Jaegrynn and her newly found friends in their gunships blasted by the bow, onward and upward.
“Calling all remaining members of the fleet! Calling any able body left alive! Tune secondary transmitters into frequency in kilohertz five-five decimal zero! Flood the signal! I repeat! Flood the signal! Commit all available power to that signal! It should confuse the Bentorii assailants and turn the tide!”
The radio chatter from the various ships changed from their panicked state to the calm and collected manner expected of Nywanese military.
“Let’s go,” said Winnibahn, “lock onto the Hand and take us there. If we have any reserve power, best use it now.”
“Sixty Kilometres away,” said the pilot, “by Kabaiila, it’s huge. Should be able to see it soon, directly ahead and forty-five degrees above us. Shaped like—like a giant bird.”
“Or a dragon,” Winnibahn tapped her chin, “a very old, angry dragon, come to devour us all.”
The bridge crew remained silent.
“Arm yourselves,” said Winnibahn as she moved to her ready room on the left side of the bridge, “I will do the same. They will board us. They will try to kill us. They will not have such pleasure. Such pleasure will be ours.”
One moment, Darrick was driving the Skyreign towards the oncoming soldiers coming through the outer gate, prepared to gun them down. Prepared to draw attention away from the rest of the crew inside the city. Prepared to blast their way through the gate and meet whatever fate laid beyond.
The next moment—they were gone. He saw the flashlights and the other ambient lights from their armours. He knew they were there. But then, in the blink of an eye, they vanished. Out of sight. Off his sensors. Completely traceless.
The ruby rings glowed enough to light his dashboard a warm red. Then, the light within them also vanished.
As he tried to compute the implications of what he’d just seen, Elsie looked to Darrick and said quietly, “Well that was unusual.”
“What happened?” Grace added, “they are gone.”
“Uh, yeah,” Darrick stared intensely at the sensors readings, “they’re not there. Computer looks like it automatically did a depth scan. They didn’t cloak. They outright disappeared, or teleported, or something!”
“Did they?” Elsie stepped away from the turret and looked to Darrick, her eyes filled with a familiarity with the situation, “or did we?”
“I do not understand,” Grace shook her head, “none of this makes sense to me.”
Darrick was still at a loss of words, hearing everything but still reading deeply into the sensors records for anything—everything--that transpired.
“What time is it?” asked Elsie, sitting next to Darrick.
Darrick’s brow raised, as he stopped scrolling through the pages and pages of information, and simply glanced at the top-right corner of the screen.
What he failed to realize, until then, was that a full hour had passed, in the blink of an eye.
“Impossible,” he whispered.
“Is it?” said Elsie, glancing his rings, “yet here we are.”
Darrick looked left and right, his eyes still confirming that those soldiers had disappeared and that they were alone.
“She must have some level of interest in you,” said Elsie, “for you to have those rings on your fingers.”
“Must want me alive, I’m guessing,” Darrick laughed quietly to himself.
“Well,” Elsie shrugged, “what now?”
<Now you can land and pick me up,> said Janeth through the intercom, <I’m directly below you, wondering what you’re doing not waiting for us to come back.>
Darrick listened right in, the first sign of life from the teams since they left. “Long story. Coming down, Janeth. Hold tight.”
<I think we’ll all have a long story once we’re through,> Janeth replied, <see you soon.>
Barely a minute after the ship landed and Darrick extended the ramp from the rear cargo bay, Janeth ascended to the Bridge, looking just as lovely as she had left.
“So?” Darrick asked, still sitting at the console, Elsie and Grace standing nearby.
“I have the map,” Janeth lifted a minuscule blue data chit between her fingers, “and I have a plan for a distraction. Any word from the others?”
“Nothing,” said Darrick as he stood and took the chit, staring at it from both of its sides, “must be the gate. Bars any communication from outside. Lost the signals as soon as they stepped in.”
“Still, they should have been back by now,” Janeth followed up.
“Well the only company we had was another platoon of Occupiers,” Darrick said over his shoulder as he placed the chit on a universal reader pad, “but it’s okay. We disappeared. I think.”
Janeth’s eyes were filled momentarily with a surprise, but then glanced the two ruby rings on his fingers and simply took the answer as it was.
“They aren’t in trouble, are they?” asked Grace.
“They are absolutely in trouble,” Janeth stated sternly, “download the map to the ship’s database. It is likely that Laura and Rose were captured. Rose is strong enough to fight many, many platoons, but Laura--”
She paused. She looked to the left, sighing and crossing her arms. Then she spoke again, “Bring up the map on your display. I have gained information as to the whereabouts of a prison the Behraanese built when they occupied Pillars. It is likely that Laura and Rose were taken there. I had half a mind to head there anyway, and start a prison break.”
“What about Olsein and Savath?” asked Elsie.
“I know Olsein,” Janeth stated, “and Olsein knows Behraan. So does Savath. I doubt they would have been captured by now.”
“If anything, Savath is simply being his usual cop self,” Elsie added.
“That won’t attract attention at all,” Darrick said, his words laced with sarcasm. As the download completed, the map then projected itself across one of the larger screens on the pilot console, detailed intricately and scaled down to the millimetre. Every street; every house; every lamp post; every cable; every sewer grate was on that map. It was layered, so from the ceiling to the deepest base of the city, it was all there in its entirety.
“There,” Janeth pointed at a large circular building, one surrounding one of the massive pillars at the heart of the city, “that is the prison. I’ve no doubt that if Laura and Rose were captured, they would be there.”
“I know prisons,” said Darrick, staring blankly, “Behraanese ones. The torture always comes before the questions. And they’re women. Occupiers are known to—use--the women in prisons.”
“That’s not the Behraan I knew,” said Janeth, as if taking offence to Darrick’s statement, “no, Behraan was above that. Prisoners had rights. Has everything gone so wrong in so short a time?”
“Janeth,” Darrick shook his head, “I’ve been in prison for several decades before being drafted onto the Skyreign. I can tell you, from experience, that Behraan’s prison system was always like this. If you were a woman in a prison, you were lucky to die. The sooner, the better. Though the guards never saw it that way....”
Janeth stared blankly at him for what seemed to be minutes. Darrick could see the fire in her eyes slowly churning, as her eyelids twitched. Her face became filled, it just for a moment, with despair.
The rest of the crew also held their tongues, just praying that she would not lose her lethal temper.
“Time to go,” Janeth finally said, if shakily, walking towards the stairwell, “we need to get them out. And then we need to get ourselves out.”
“Very well and good,” said Elsie, “and how do we intend to get in and out?”
Janeth looked back over her shoulder, the glow in her eyes and the sheer rage in her face being answer enough.
“I see,” Elsie nodded, looking to Darrick and Grace, “well, I’m actually with her on this one.”
“On what one?” Darrick asked innocently.
Elsie passed Janeth’s look along to Darrick.
“Oh,” Darrick nodded, “okay. Well, as acting Captain, I think I’ll just go ahead and get this ship ready to blow stuff up.”
“Sound plan, Captain,” Elsie grimaced, following Janeth down the stairs.
“I don’t like the plan at all,” Grace shook her head.
“Do you want them to suffer?” Darrick looked squarely at Grace.
She said nothing, only shook her head again and hopped back into the turret.