The bridge of the Valiant was dominated by a holographic tank that bulged out of the wall directly in front of the Captain’s chair, currently occupied by Lieutenant-Commander Sam Gordon. Updated constantly by an unending stream of data from sensors on the hull and within the superstructure of the vessel, the tank was currently displaying the state of combat between the Valiant and the Kalaz’an ship. The Valiant was pummelling its enemy with a tachyon broadside from its starboard batteries, while the Kalaz’an battle cruiser hung in space silently absorbing the impacts with – in the holographic recreation at least if not in reality – pink, orange and, occasionally, red flares of light blossoming on its screens, a representation of the likelihood of phase shield overload. Gordon found the enemy ship’s calm inscrutability profoundly unsettling. This was not the first time he had served on a vessel engaged by a Kalaz’an ship, but being part of the thirty-strong liberation fleet in the Battle of Von Bek’s World or running anti-incursion patrols on the edge of Earth Fleet space were completely different propositions to what he was experiencing now.
Gordon shifted in the command seat, biting down on the urge to ask Schofield for a situation report; the situation was blindingly obvious to anyone willing to cast even a cursory glance at the holo-tank.
He turned to Forster. The comms officer’s shaven head gleamed in the blood-red lighting and shadows pooled in her sunken cheeks. Her eyes were open but unseeing. Her lips moved subtly – pursing, twisting, relaxing. Mantras, catechisms, psycho-mnemonics that he couldn’t hear and wouldn’t be able to understand in any case animated them.
“Forster…” Gordon stopped himself. Interrupting a comms officer in communion was not an inherently dangerous thing to do, but it still felt… sacrilegious. “Forster!” Sharper this time. More authoritative. More like Marris. “Any breakthrough?”
Forster’s eyes remained closed, but her voice was clear and steady. “We remain outside beacon range. I have asked ShipMind to broadcast distress signal eight-alpha as a broadband transmission. It will take some time for response and even longer for the arrival of in-system reinforcements. I will continue to attempt to establish an independent beacon. It will take time.”
Gordon’s scowl deepened. “How much time?”
“Unknown.” Her voice softened a little. “I would suggest you leave me to it, sir. I will inform you if breakthrough is made.”
Resisting the urge to swear, Gordon turned his attention back to the holo-display. He zoomed in on the area of the hull currently shielding deck 13. A patch of discoloured, mottled polyferrocrete was visible, perhaps six or seven metres across. It didn’t look like much, just laser or plasma damage. But the analysis that was being currently updated alongside the holographic image told him that it was slowly but surely weakening the integrity of the hull in that area of the ship.
His finger stabbed down at the intercom.
“Damage control. How are we doing with those drones?”
The voice of Delacourt, one of the engineers responsible for shipboard maintenance, drifted faintly from the small speaker in the command chair, as if it were being transmitted from some distant facility in-system rather than from a mere three decks below him. Gordon frowned.
“… first batch ready in… minutes…”
“Repeat. I say again, repeat.”
“… say again… ten… in… we’re… breaking…”
The speaker hissed and popped for a moment and then went dead.
Gordon’s frown deepened.
Behind him, Forster broke her connection with the Valiant’s ShipMind with an anguished, drawn-out sob. Gordon whirled round to stare at her.
“The child…” she gasped, her eyes struggling to focus on him, her scalp gleaming with perspiration. “The child… is… awake.”