Chapter Nine: Climax
It was as though they'd never left. Well, except for the several blasters pointed at Rhade from behind. Two to be exact by Beka, the violet-skinned alien, while the Magog walked behind. Said Magog had intercepted them in the halls and been recognized. Rhade had almost shot him, which got the blasters pointed at him in turn.
Geretex, meanwhile, had disappeared.
The doors to the bridge opened before them. They found Refractions adjusting the controls. A bandage was on his still-healing injuries, but they were clearly able to pilot. Dylan just hoped his injuries wouldn't reopen.
As soon as they entered, Refractions looked up, saw Rhade, and drew a gun. Rhade tensed and then remembered the other guns behind him.
"Give the order, Captain," said the Thrax.
"Now is not the time, Refractions," said Dylan. "Report."
"The Nietzschean vessels are on their way now," said Andromeda, appearing. The screen appeared and showed an immense fleet of ships heading toward them. "They are of a ship design I have not seen before. It appears to be operating on foreign principles to my own systems. But they are not necessarily inferior."
"Yeah, well, scientific development goes on," said Beka.
"Andromeda, can you get us out of here?" asked Dylan.
"I am rerouting our main power to the engines," said Andromeda. "However, we will lack shields. May I assume hostilities between you have been terminated?"
Dylan glanced at Rhade. "Let's call hostilities put aside, for the moment. Plot a course away from here. Refractions, you're on evasive maneuvers."
"Yes, sir," said Refractions.
Dylan looked to Beka. Was that her name? She was surprisingly cute, though now didn't seem the time. "Beka Valentine, right?"
"Yeah?" said Beka.
"Are there any commonwealth ports we can head to?" asked Dylan.
"The Commonwealth doesn't exist anymore," said Beka flatly. "It hasn't for hundreds of years."
"Maybe not, but the whole government can't have completely collapsed," said Dylan. "There have got to be some organizations that claim legitimacy from the Commonwealth."
"Well, there is one," said Beka. " High Guard Station GS-92196. It's near Magog space, though and regularly comes under attack. The Nietzcheans leave them alone, since they prevent the Magog from spreading too easily. It forces the damn things to take the longer slipspace routes.
"No offense, Rev."
"None taken, Beka," said Rev. "My people are well-documented as unfortunate neighbors."
How the hell had Beka ended up working with a Magog anyway? It really didn't matter, actually. "Perfect," said Dylan. "Give the coordinates to Andromeda, and she'll plot a course for there immediately."
And so it began.
It was a mistrustful sort of efficiency that went over the crew now. All was fairly silent as the Nietzschean drew closer and closer. Everyone worked hard and fast, in a way that only people under imminent threat of death could.
Rhade seemed to be taking it all in stride.
And he'd outlived his usefulness. Dylan didn't like being calculating, half his job as Captain was to never forget the human element. But right now, he didn't see any job he could give Rhade that he could trust him with. But if he didn't give him a job, Rhade would know Dylan didn't trust him.
"The Nietzchean vessels appear to be opening fire," said Andromeda.
Sure enough, there were the missiles. And Refractions was working to evade them, always having been the best pilot in the fleet. God, Dylan missed Sarah right now.
"Damn it, activate the anti-missile batteries right away," said Dylan. "Rhade, take charge of them. Focus on keeping us alive."
"Are you certain that is wise, Commander?" asked Andromeda.
"No, but nobody else aside from myself knows how to use the interface," said Dylan. "Beka, does your ship have any weapons?" Rhade wouldn't drop his guard while she was pointing a gun at Rhade.
"Some, but nothing that can take on a capital ship," said Beka, as missiles exploded on the viewscreen.
"We don't need something that can take on a capital ship. Just something that can deter boarding parties," said Dylan. "Nietzscheans love hand to hand combat and tailor their transports for speed. They could overtake us, but they won't send transports if we have some kind of fighter cover.
"And if they do get on board, we're all as good as dead."
"It would seem to be our only options, Beka," said the Magog.
"Fine, we'll take care of it-" said Beka.
"Your crew stays here," said Dylan quickly. He hoped he wasn't coming across as too harsh. "Nothing personal, but I want to get out of this alive. That vessel, the Maru, can be piloted by one person. I've read the specs on that type of ship. Even if you have modified it."
Beka looked to him, then nodded. "...Right, whatever you say."
She turned around in her black boots, sheathed her pistol and walked out of the bridge. The doors shut behind her, and Dylan reflected Rhade was a lot more dangerous now. Should he go for a preemptive strike? If so, when?
Dylan looked to the Magog and Trance, who'd been tagging along. He didn't seem dangerous, but Rhade was eyeing the former with hatred and suspicion. He'd always hated Magog, having lost family to them in the wars.
Dylan looked over to the violet-skinned alien. He reflected that he'd never heard of her species. However, she was nice-looking in the humanoid standard of beauty. "You, what's your name?"
"Trance," said the purple-skinned alien.
"Right, I want you to get on the com with Tyr and Harper," said Dylan. "Andromeda should be able to put you through. I need to know what they are doing and where they are. "You who are you?"
"I am Rev Bem, a Wayist," said Rev. "I work as the priest on the Maru."
This was his chance. Put on the facade of a racist jerk and get to it. "Yeah, well, I'm a Christian, and you're a Magog. So stand over there in that corner opposite to me and do nothing."
"If that is what you desire," said Rev, before moving to obey. Rhade's eyes followed them as much as he could. Not he was alternating between watching Rev and shooting down missiles.
"Missiles incoming," said Andromeda.
"I have them," said Rhade.
"Nice work, Rhade," said Dylan, trying to appear his usual self. "What's the status on the Maru?" If it came to a straight-up fight with Rhade, Dylan was probably a dead man.
"Beka Valentine is performing her appointed task," said Rhade dismissively. "I am surprised she did not abandon her crewmates."
"If she had, she might have drawn off some of the enemy fleet," mused Dylan, more to reassure Rhade than any belief. He doubted Cuchulain would care enough about one smaller vessel. "Andromeda, are we losing them?"
"We are gaining distance from them. In three standard minutes, we will be entirely out of range. However, my slipspace drive is offline," said Andromeda.
"You should kill the Magog," said Rhade. "He's a danger to everyone on this ship."
"Rhade, he hasn't done anything to us," said Dylan.
"Dylan, I've found them," said Trance from the computer console.
Dylan nodded and deliberately turned his back on Rhade. He didn't think Rhade would shoot him, and it might put him at ease. Moving over to the console, Dylan took the console. "Tyr, Harper, what are you doing?"
Harper waved on the screen, covered in soot. "Well, we were assessing the possibility of blowing up a sun. The idea was to set a trap and destroy Cuchulain's weaponry. However, in these circumstances, I should say it would kill us both."
"Right, can you repair a slipstream drive?" asked Dylan.
"Commander Hunt, I Harper, can repair and make anything. You name it-" began Harper.
"Great, whatever," said Dylan. "Andromeda, lead them to the slipstream drive and get the repairs underway. We're on a timetable here."
"Fine, fine," said Harper. "Rush me, why don't you. You know unions don't-"
Dylan cut the channel. "Andromeda, are we out of missile range?"
"Affirmative," said Andromeda.
"Thank you," said Dylan.
Then he saw Rhade looking directly at Rev. Now was his chance. Drawing out his force lance, Dylan set it to stun, then shot Rhade repeatedly in the shot. The Nietzschean was thrown back and crashed into the wall.
Dylan moved forward and saw Rhade, borderline unconscious.
"...I'm so proud of you," said Rhade.
"Wish I could say the same," said Dylan. "Get a cryo pod ready, Andromeda. I want him off this ship as soon as we have somewhere to maroon him."
"Standard protocol is he be given a fair trial," noted Andromeda.
"Standard protocol doesn't matter at the moment," said Dylan. "Everyone we knew is dead, the Commonwealth is gone, so it's either marooning him or shooting him."
"An execution seems a more long-term solution," noted Andromeda.
"Maybe, but Rhade doesn't have a power base anymore," said Dylan. "He'll have to rebuild from scratch." He thought about everyone dead who would never come back, and his mouth watered. "Just like us."
"You utilized me as a distraction to shoot your own crewmate?" asked Rev, voice disapproving.
"Sorry," said Dylan. "But, Rhade is the reason I was in that Black Hole, to begin with. I had to take him out, in a straight fight he'd kill me."
"Hey, this is Harper, we've repaired the slipstream drive and are A okay to go," said Harper over the com.
"That was fast," said Dylan, impressed despite himself. "Andromeda, contact Beka on the Maru, tell her to get back in here quick."
And then new things came onto the viewscreen. On it were images of yet another fleet was heading toward them. It was huge as well, even by the standards of the Commonwealth at its height. How could the Nietzscheans have made an army this big?
"Commander Hunt, Nietzschean vessels are trying to cut us off," said Andromeda.
"Cuchulain must have had a secondary fleet standing by near us," said Dylan. "That way, he could slipstream them into place wherever he needed them on the battlefield.
"He's got good tactics."
"May I suggest leaving without Beka Valentine?" asked Andromeda. "It would speed our progress and reduce potential threats."
"You can't leave without Beka," said Trance.
"And we're not going to," said Dylan. "You are going to need something to leave this place on anyway."
The Nietzschean fleet was closing, closing. At any moment now, they'd be cut off. Soon energy blasts were being fired at them en masse. The ship ducked and weaved under Refractions direction to avoid them, but there were too many. The vessel shoot as several raked their bow. Dylan nearly lost his footing, as missiles surged toward them, now with no one to shoot them down.
Because he'd shot Rhade, a fellow officer he'd bled with.
They were running out of time.
"I'm in," said Beka over the com. "Get us the hell out of here!"
"Good. Refractions, enter slipspace now," said Dylan.
"Yes, Captain!" said Refractions, and they surge into the infinite. Silence fell over them for a moment, and Dylan looked to the beautiful avatar of Andromeda. "Andromeda, prepare the brig. We might be able to get some information out of Rhade before we drop him off."
Dylan reflected that he'd probably never see Rhade again once he did that. One more part of his old wife gone and left on some barren rock? Was he alright with that?
Of course, he was.
All this was Rhade's fault, to begin with.
They entered slipspace, and they saw the limitless possibilities flowing before them. As they did, Dylan thought about things. Was this the part in the story of his life where he made an inspiring speech? Recruited the ragtag group of misfits to refound the Commonwealth? Talked to them about the glories of democracy and drove back the long night singlehanded?
No, no, it was not.
They had bigger fish to fry at the moment. At the moment they needed eachother, but once they didn't...
Well, there would be a regular ship of agendas to deal with.
"Andromeda, find Geretex," said Dylan.
"Affirmative," said Andromeda.
This was going to be a long voyage.