The Starblade – Chapter One

In the first one hundred years since the invention of hyperspace travel, humanity spread out far and wide across the cosmos. Overtime various factions arose and fell, like an intergalactic hydra. In an attempt to curb the rising division and conflict, the Alliance was formed, with the sole aim of collective mutual co-operation of those with similar interest among all the sentient hyperspace fairing species. This, however, wouldn’t stop millions seeking freedom or their own entrepreneurship, legal or otherwise.
   The Captain of the Starblade, Callista, was jerked awake and fell from her bed when an almighty rumble shock the ship violently. The ship was brought to alert, with sirens sounding off, throughout every passageway and section of the ship, muffling the panic and determination of the off-duty crew now scrambling to their stations. The room’s light was fluttering, with the glimmer of red emergency light as the only constant source. Picking herself up off the floor, Callista rushes to the comm unit on the wall using it to connect to the bridge.
   “Kehan? What the hell just happened to my ship?” she demands.
   Over the comm a tinny and sporadic voice responds back: “Well, we’re under attack, obviously—A ship jumped out of nowhere, in front of us, and didn’t hesitate in opening fire.”
   “For fuck sake Kehan—” Another series of hits interrupts Callista, throwing her off balance. She regains her posture and reconnects to the bridge through the comm: “Who the hell is attacking us?”
   “Does it matter? I’m more concerned in not being obliterated, to ask them nicely what their names are,” Kehan replies, facetiously. “Any chance of our illustrious ‘Captain’ attempting to grace us with her presence or are you going to just sleep through it?” he continues, breaking off the conversation briefly to issue a command.
   “Screw you, Kehan,” Callista spurs. “Keep my ship in one piece before I get there—or so help me I’ll vent you.”
   “Best hurry then, or our ‘friends’ might beat you too it,” Kehan retorts, before being cut off finally.
   As the rogue Captain of the Starblade, Callista built up a reputation for being ruthless. A shoot first, no questions asked, woman. Someone who’s attitude often got her into more trouble than anticipated but always managing to pull through; very often with blood on her hands. Her tenacious ability to survive was due to her time in the U.D.E., before the Alliance. Including stand-offs with many other seedy associates in the past. As a genetically modified insurgent, she was tasked to go hostile planets and disrupt the geopolitical landscape, before a planet would be targeted by an invasive fleet. However, the experiment to genetically improve her physiology, such as quicker reflexes and intelligence, was a contributing factor to her rather short, almost psychopathic, temperament. Due to her unorthodox methods, she was disavowed and abandoned by the U.D.E. It was their betrayal and the necessity to survive, alienated away from everything she knew, that caused her to resort to piracy. Her hair was shoulder length, which she had herself genetically modified to grow purple. She was slim but well toned, with her body covered in an assortment of scars and tattoos, with one intrinsic asymmetrical design on the left side of her face.
   Callista readied herself, cursing multiple times as she was constantly hampered by the periodical distributions. I never knew humans could be that aggressively vocal.
   The ship kept taking multiple hits, while Callista kept running, down the passageway of the top deck, towards the bridge. A severe impact jolts the ship, enough to throw her violently against the bulkhead, along with some crew members running past her. Her left shoulder took most of the brunt force, causing it to dislocate. Clutching the pain with her free hand, the agony was vocal but she continued unabated, still determined to reach the bridge. Her progression was further impeded when the ship received what felt like a barrage. This time it was severe enough to throw her to the metal grated flooring. The disruption to the ship’s power was enough to cause feedback within the system and multiple panels blew away from the bulkheads in her section. Bundles of internal wiring and cables were became exposed, with sparks flying out like shooting stars, from those that were now burned apart. Callista’s determination grew, as evidence of the threat they were all in become progressively more real. Callista couldn’t shake the feeling of her precious ship being slowly torn apart from the outside. Her vocalised thoughts turned to the cargo hold, which was provided further concern as to the safety of its contents. The look on her face, from the internal cameras, said it all. Indeed, I too was worried. Only both of us knew what it was. Kehan was kept out of the loop on this, probably because of how he would react. I could see almost everything that was happening from my cybernetic uplink being tied into the ship’s systems and sensors. Although, regrettably, this was not enough to anticipate the approaching attackers before hand. My full integration was never completed.
   Callista kept crawling, using her free arm from her prone position, across the metal grating, passing underneath the flailing wires in order to avoid electrocution. A further barrage hit the ship this time had causing the section’s lighting to cut out, plunging the passageway into darkness. More emergency lighting kicked in, which was only slightly dulling the sporadic flashing and hissing electrical outbursts. Now safely past the wires she was free to reach the bulkhead’s double door into the bridge.
   Damage to the ship had caused it’s most of the door’s power to fail and blocked the bridge off from the rest of the ship. Two crew members were already attempting to open it from Callista’s side. One had a makeshift crowbar and had slammed it into between the two and was pulling it towards him, stretching the doors open slightly. The other crew member took the risk of placing his hands in between and started pulling the closest door. Callista began assisting her two subordinate’s efforts, with her own free hand. The door’s hydraulics resisted but after throwing their full weight against both sides all three of them were strong enough to wedge it open enough for one person. Callista wedged herself in between each door, placing her back to one side and her foot against the other, stretching it out, forcing the gap wider. After their was sufficient space, the crew member took his makeshift crowbar and propped it between the doors, bracing them apart. Callista and the two crew mates shimmied their way through and onto the bridge.
   As she entered, she could barely see what was happening. The faint glow from terminals and emergency lights radiated enough to see half the bridge manned. One half of the bridge crew had been thrown back and knocked unconscious, while a few were dead from consoles, which had exploded in front of them, charring their faces to the bone or leaving the contents of their torsos exposed. Sparks flew from several terminals that had exploded, causing intermittent light bursts and more of the bulkheads showed the stresses of damage.
   Kehan was sat in his command chair, directing the retaliation: “Take down their shields, and then target their weapons!”
   “Aye, sir,” replies the gunnery officer.
   “What’s the situation?” Callista inquires, resting briefly on a railing behind Kehan.
   “It’s about time you got here, what took you? Take the scenic route did we?” Kehan says, turning his head briefly to recognise his Captain’s presence.
   “Save it Kehan, I’m not in the mood,” Callista concedes, bitterly. “Is the cargo safe?”
   “I couldn’t give a fuck about the cargo. It’s nice to know what your priorities are.” Kehan replies, sternly.
   Kehan was a rather sarcastic individual, even when facing insurmountable odds. His greying hair was side-parted, with most of the right side of his head sporting a large burn scar, including a missing ear. His right eye, along with his right arm, had been replaced with cybernetics, which weren’t that obvious to those who were not aware of it. He never did explain how it happened. But Callista trusted and respected his expertise in command and was the reason why she kept him on board. His excessive sarcasm wound her up, however, to the extent she often remarked to him her regret in allowing him to remain; but never out of spite—usually. I never understood why he felt the need to provoke such a reaction from her, knowing how she is temperamental at the best of times.
   The ship continually rumbled from impact after impact causing more consoles to explode and terminal displays to flutter as the ship’s power waned. Callista then punches the metal railing in front of her, in anger.
   “Why are they not space dust yet?” she says, spitefully.
   “Well, our shield’s are out for a start; there are two hull breaches along the starboard; half the ship has lost power; there’s reports of causalities, and our main right thruster is blown,” replies Kehan.
   “This ship was built for combat, why is it taking this much damage?”
   “They dropped out of hyperspace cloaked and opened fire before we knew what was happening. Our shields were targeted first and our own weapons are barely effective against theirs,” Kehan replied. “And before you ask, they haven’t made any attempt at communication.”
   “Jax?” Callista says, looking with intense focus towards her.
   “They have no I.D. Scanners are showing it to be of similar design to an U.E.D. corvette,” confirms Jax. “But its not on our database.”
   “Fantastic, they sent a mere shadow to do their dirty work,” scoffs Callista.
   “Either way we’re barely holding it together. Their unduly prompt attack is probably because this ship was never meant to exist in the first place,” Kehan remarks, in his rather controlled demeanour. “The U.D.E. wouldn’t want a word of their secret toy getting out to the rest of the Alliance. Better to be rid of it, than to allowing its continued existence tarnish their reputation.”
   “My toy, Kehan,’ Callista asserts, haughtily, “It’s mine—”
   “Their firing another salvo!” interrupts the gunnery officer. As the enemy ship fires from it’s port broad side two dozen missiles directly towards the Starblade.
   “Evasive manoeuvres, and focus the auto turrets on them this time. We can’t keep taking hits like this!” Kehan commands.
   As the opponent ship fires from it’s port-side, the Starblade takes a hard bank right to avoid further damage to the breaches and evades half of the enemy salvo. The ship’s automated weapons, along its own port side, takes out the majority of those remaining. However, a few hit the outer hull causing yet another breach. A few crew members in that section are vented into space, left endlessly drifting. The ship banks round to the stern of their target but the damage causes it to roll sideways, as the stabilizing gyroscope starts to malfunction.
   “Stabilize the ship! Re-route auxiliary power to the port side,” Kehan barks, to the helmsman. After a minute they manage to rebalance the ship’s orientation. “Bring the ship about on their starboard. Keep on at them.”
   “Their shields are barely taking any damage, sir,” responds the gunnery officer.
   “Fire the ‘blade’ at them!” commands Callista.
   “You mad woman?” counters Kehan. “We don’t have the power for it.”
   “I don’t care. Cut the life-support to the non-essential desks if you have to.”
   “Killing half our crew, from oxygen deprivation and exposure, in the process?” Jax warns.
   “The entire crew will be dead, along with us, if we don’t,” explains Callista.
   “I can’t argue with that. Being dead is not an experience I want to go through twice.” Kehan remarks. “Charge the ‘blade’.”
   “But sir?” hesitatingly replies the gunnery officer.
   “Fuck, I’ll do it!” cracks Callista, as she marches over to the gunnery officer shoving him forcefully onto his backside. Using her only useful right hand, she input the command. The ship starts to gear up and hum.
   “Continue to evade, while the ‘blade’ charges. Stop firing the main cannons and put the energy into the thrusters,” Kehan once again commands to the pilots.
   “One minute, till it’s fully charged,” Callista informs.
   “This is gonna be a long minute,” observes Jax, anxiously.
   “No shit. Keep evading,” Kehan snaps to the helmsman.
   Over the course of the minute the ship continue to evade most of the salvoes being fired by the enemy ship. A few missiles continually pass through the Starblade’s defences, shocking the ship violently, as each one hit, scaring further the already scorched hull.
   “It’s fully charged!” informs Callista.
   “Bring us about and align up our bow to their starboard!” Kehan commands.
   As the Starblade aligns to face the enemy ship head on, it starts to shift in shape. Its dagger like form starts dividing into that of a two-pronged fork. The divide exposes within the middle a huge cannon, which then starts to glow with energy, then spins faster and faster. After a few seconds, the glow radiates further and electrical discharges arc across the cannon’s surface. The enemy ship, in new recognition of the Starblade’s capacity, attempts to bank away but was too slow.
   “Firing!” Callista calls out.
   The cannon spews forth an energy beam, towards the target, which cuts straight through the enemy’s shielding and hull, directly through the middle of the ship. The enemy target’s weapons and missiles cease, as the entire ship is drawn in two. In a spectacular explosion both halves break away from each other, with debris and exposed crew drifting off and any signs of power starts dissipating from the ship, to a near complete blackout.
   “Direct hit,” Callista reports.
   “Fuck me, that was a close one!” exclaims Jax.
   “Jax, are there any other ships on the scanner?” Kehan asks, looking at Jax. “I don’t want any other surprises.”
   “Yes, sir. Nothing on immediate scan. Just us alone and a few sporadic live signs from the other ship. Some escape pods are ejecting.”
   Kehan turns his gaze forward: “Good, let them rot out there. Keep on the scanner, Jax, they may have sent a distress signal. Helm, what’s our jump-drive status?”
   “It’s down, sir,” reports the helmsman.
   “Typical,” Kehan replies. He uses the console on his arm rest to issue a ship-wide command to the crew: “Right everyone, were out of immediate danger. The enemy has been neutralised. Let’s get our ship back to working order. Engineering: Bel, come in Bel.”
   “Bel, responding. Are you humans done with keeping us alive?” I reply.
   “Save that monotonous drone, Bel. Focus repair on our jump-drive.”
   “It will take time to get the drive working again and the hull breaches will need to be fixed too,” I add.
   “Just get it done, use the remaining repair drones if you have too. We’re setting off for Outer Reach, asap.”
   “Not yet, we’re not,” barks Callista, as she heads towards the bridge exit. She uses a moment to slam her shoulder against the bulkhead, snapping it back into its socket.
   “I beg your pardon?” Kehan inquires, confusingly.
   “They came after us. And I want to know why and who sent them,” Callista replies, as she rotates her arm.
   “Are you serious, woman?” asks Kehan. “We’re almost wreckage and you want to go snooping, on a now junk heap, for clues.”
   “Like Bel said, we’re not going anywhere for the time being, until the jump-drive is fixed and the state the ship is in. If they know we’re out here then someone sold us out. This was to be a simple smuggling run and I’m not about to let that kind of information go to waste. Besides which, it’s my ship. We’re not going anywhere. That’s an order.”
   Kehan wore his usual reserved face, which was normally in reaction to Callista’s abnormal behaviour. But he couldn’t help but agree with her argument. It was true, no one in the U.E.D. should have known where we were, in this sector of space at least, without being informed. It was too much of a coincidence for them to find us here and now. His curiosity, along with mine, was shared with our Captain’s and he followed her lead, reluctant as always.
  “Fine,” Kehan concedes, “I’m coming with you. Helm, bring us about next to the ship’s aft section, near the closest airlock.”
  From conversations I have overheard, since knowing both Callista and Kehan, they had already spent six years commanding the Starblade, while evading it’s original owners; after they first commandeered it from a U.E.D. ship yard. The experimental corvette was still under construction, yet many key functions remained unattended. Both thought it was practical enough to commandeered, at any rate. Without the original plans, the Starblade’s crew attempted to patch what systems they could over the years since but the ship still remained incomplete.
  Speculation of the ship’s true intent arose due to the political inquiry of the U.E.D’s role, and it’s unknown purpose, that halted its final completion. During this phase, both Callista and Kehan, who both aware of the ship’s location, from an obscure affiliate of theirs, along with a compliment of other begrudged individuals, took the opportunity seized the ship from right under the United Earth Defence’s nose; much to the U.D.Es later embarrassment. After a subsequent raid, the pair took on Jax, a skilled hacker, as well as a handful of other individuals, a couple of years later. Myself, a biologically engineered life-form, called Bel by these humans, was already apart of the ship at the time. An autonomous unit designed to interact with the ship, in a way no human could. Only Callista and Kehan knew my true function and have not yet decided to implement it. Perhaps they fear me and my capabilities. For now I’m left in charge of repairing the ship, that I am bound too, but severed from key systems.
   Now out of danger, the Starblade slowly starts to manoeuvre next to the other ship’s rear half, where the bridge was located. I started work to repair the jump-drive, while I simultaneously launch the repair drones to work on the outer hull. Most of the crew were busy fixing what internal systems they could. The bitter and angry, Callista and Kehan, myself, as well as the rest of the crew, were eager to find out how we were betrayed. I was most of all relieved to know at least the cargo was safe.


Laura Steel © 2016