“All fleet divisions report in!” said Winnibahn from the bridge of the Neversail, as she overlooked the cratered and scored deck. The Nywanese troops had guided the number of Bentorii that still occupied the deck, down into the carrier decks below.
The fleet reports rolled in, but the list was a great deal shorter than it had been before the siege had begun.
<General Bryesco here,> came through on an alternate channel, <we heard the transmission about the frequency. We have our shield poles tuned to it and are flooding the signals in the perimeter area. It’s making them go nuts when they get into the zone, so it’s working. But we’ve lost a lot of ground. All of the civilians have been sent underground. We have outfits covering the domes and the solar towers, though the Bentorii don’t seem to be bothering with them. Point is, they won’t go through the zones we’ve put up. But we can’t get out of Nywan. We’re pinned in real good.>
Saferon then stepped in, her coat still covered in blood. Sam, too, walked in.
“We’re coming back now,” said Winnibahn, “the Ophelia showed up and attacked the Hand. Looks like they drew it away from us, to buy some time.”
<We tried to contact you but you weren’t responding,> said the Bryesco.
“The Hand had jammed us,” Win continued as she pointed at the pilot, who already had begun the manoeuvre to turn about and slowly descend the beaten and battered battleship, “but we had some interesting turns of events. We, uh--”
“Liberated,” said Saferon.
Winnibahn swivelled back in surprise to see the two blood-bathed soldiers, “uh, liberated some Bentorii. We’ll have to explain it once we figure it out ourselves, but for now, try to confront them as little as possible.”
<I don’t understand,> said Bryesco.
“Perhaps I’d best explain,” said Saferon as she stepped forth, nodding to Winnibahn.
Winnibahn hesitantly nodded back.
Sam stayed behind, waiting patiently.
“It would seem radio frequencies are not all they respond to,” said Saferon, “for they also respond to emotions in those around them. I am not sure as to why, but when they sense an emotion, such as hatred or anger, they emulate it in an extreme way. Enough so that it blinds their judgement The ones we’ve liberated were in the flood zone of the Neversail, and once Winnibahn ordered Method Twenty-One, the fighting stopped.”
<Your crew is well-disciplined,> said Bryesco, <Good luck with that working down here. A lot of good men and women died to those monsters already.>
By then, the city of the Groaning Giants was before the nose of the ship, slowly growing in their field of view.
<This is General Hakrum,> said a low, bellowing voice, <the Ma’guul have submitted to us. They wish to join the ranks of Nywan, should we survive. I sense no betrayal or lies or deceit. And they warn us of an impending threat, that of Behraan.>
“Any sign of Guillius?” asked Saferon.
<Their vessels were damaged. But yes. He is alive and here with us. He descended as soon as he could no longer endure the battle.>
“Where’s that response from the fleet?” said Winnibahn to the makeshift communications officer.
“They are on the far side of Nywan,” said the officer with worry in her voice, “apparently engaged in a battle. I’m not getting any chatter from here, but I’m detecting other signatures, not our own. Not Ma’guul. Or Bentorii.”
“Could that be--” Winnibahn said quietly.
<We just received word from the fleet ourselves,> said Hakrum, <a scout has warned us. It would appear Guillius spoke truth. They have come.>
“Behraan,” said Saferon, as if the word was a curse.
Winnibahn shook her head in dismay, “first the Ma’guul. Who joined us. Then came the Bentorii, of all fucking things—some of whom have joined us. Now we have Behraanese occupiers showing up.”
“I told you the Imperator was here,” said Saferon coldly, “I told you. He probably left the Hand intentionally in the hands of the Bentorii. And then moved his fleet to some other point over the planet. And now they’re attacking us.”
“I know, Saferon, I know,” Winnibahn sighed heavily, turning to one of her officers, “shipwide diagnostic?”
“Short story or long?”
Winnibahn refused to answer.
“Most of the cannons are operational. Hull integrity is fine. Mostly. Several shield arrays have failed, but their backups have taken over.”
“Sensors analysis?” she turned to another.
“The Bentorii are circling around the perimeter,” she said, “they are not engaging nor leaving. Just—circling.”
“Last count was done half an hour ago,” said another officer, “Out of crew of Seven-hundred twenty-three, one-hundred twelve dead, and an estimated three-hundred forty with various injuries. Medical bays are packed. Several nearby quarters on that deck have been turned into makeshift sickbays. We’re in rough shape. Those Bentorii are too fast for us....”
Winnibahn squinted her eyes as she saw the horrid state of her vessel and crew. She looked again to Saferon, sighing, “just a few weeks ago, we were basking in peace. Did you know we were going to convert some of the capitol ships into homes for refugees? We really were trying for a simple life.”
“Behraan has always been this way,” said Saferon with sorrow, “they wait until the indigenous defences are broken in, and then move in to claim the world. I am sorry to see it happen to this world, too.”
Winnibahn shook her head, “hasn’t happened yet. Not exactly going to let it happen, either.”
“Nor I,” said Saferon.
“Me neither,” Sam added.
Winnibahn looked to the two, “where’s Janeth when we need her?”