No direction. Aimless. No certainty.
A single attenuated moment.
A cocoon of identical instants, each one throbbing with the same warm humming, the same absence of difference, the same…
A tugging. Urgent. Insistent. The eternal moment shatters into discreet instances of raw, unmediated time. The time is now. A demand is made. Action is required. Action is required now.
The word floats in as if from a great distance. He turns his back on it. No words. Not ever again. This word is insistent, however.
What do the words mean?
He listens. Despite himself, he listens. This is, after all, the first voice he has heard in… he doesn’t remember…
“I am coming, brother.”
The voice has gained timbre, register – a breathy hushed quivering.
Hunger, desire, slow crooning warmth.
“Soon you will be free.”
Gordon forced his voice to remain even, pushed back against the panic gathering in his gut.
“They… they have made contact…” Forster whispered, her eyes loose, unfocused. She wasn’t plugged in, Gordon noticed. This was raw psi-spill, mediated only by Forster’s language and the hermeneutic power of her imagination. “The child understands… On a very basic level… the child understands…”
Tearing his gaze away from his communications officer, Gordon stared at the holo-tank. The Kalaz’an ship had, at some point in the last few seconds, unfurled perhaps a dozen thin appendages from its aft bulk and now they stretched across the void towards them. The panic was at his chest now. Gordon could feel it reaching for his vocal cords. He swallowed. Like every other officer on the bridge, he knew what these things were and he knew what they meant.
“Gunnery stations,” he ordered, flipping the intercom. “Address those feeding tubes now!”
He was dismayed to recognise the high-pitched taint of alarm in his voice, but his officers either failed to notice or at least had the good grace not to acknowledge it.
A few tense moments passed during which all the bridge crew could do was watch the thin, organic appendages continue their painfully slow journey towards the Valiant.
But then a salvo of beams and plasma erupted from the Valiant’s batteries, obliterating the first few metres of the tubes entirely and, in the case of a few of the more developed tendrils, igniting the foul mix of acids that they contained, gutting their entire length. These tubes would be unmoored from the Kalaz’an ship in the next few minutes and new growths would replace them. The tubes that had already been deployed and survived the bombardment would regrow on their own.
Gordon licked his lips, glanced over at his gunnery officer. “Damage?”
“Four of the tubes destroyed completely, the remainder will grow back in approximately three minutes, sir.”
“Recycling now, sir. 15% charge currently.”
“And in three minutes?”
Hunched at his station, Ensign Schofield paused for a second. “Approximately 38%, sir.”
Gordon nodded. That matched the quick calculations he’d made mentally. He turned to Parkinson at the helm.
“Take us three points to starboard and a further seven points yaw down. One-tenth iss. Gunnery stations, concentrate fire on the enemy’s aft section. Tachyon burst only. On my mark.”
Schofield looked up sharply. “We’re about to deploy the maintenance drones, sir.”
Gordon scowled briefly. “How are we looking in the affected areas?”
“Hull integrity in 12-D is down to 51%. The observation blister on 13 has been space-sealed. It’ll be open in approximately four and a half minutes.”
His fingers stabbing at the controls set in the small touchscreen in front of him, Gordon called up the relevant schematics file and noted with satisfaction that evacuation of the area had been completed a full two minutes ago.
“Fine,” he said. “Complete the manoeuvre and then release the drones. We won’t be moving for a while anyway. It will take the Kalaz’an a while to plot alternative vectors.” He refrained from adding the phrase ‘I hope’ to his final statement.
Dismissing the schematics with a flick of his finger, he returned to the tactical display in the holo-tank, watching ShipMind plot the course he had just given to Schofield and feeling the gentle lurch as the ship began to move with almost comical serenity to its appointed position. By the time the Valiant had completed the manoeuvre, it would have moved closer to the Kalaz’an ship and achieved a position that would make it much more difficult for the Kalaz’an feeding tubes to reach them while still giving the batteries a clear shot at the alien vessel. For its part, the Kalaz’an ship was reduced to extremely limited manoeuvrability. As arcane and terrifying as their weapons and defences were, the strange squid-like creatures did not engage in the kind of space combat favoured by races like the Qissenti and The Crimson Shadow, preferring instead to anchor a large portion of the physical mass of their battleships in the non-Euclidean space that remained a maddening mystery to Earth Fleet scientists and from which the Kalaz’an derived much of their strange technology. Their phase shield technology rendered them virtually invulnerable. Or at least invulnerable enough for the time needed for their offensive weapons to do their work.
Receiving acknowledgements from both the firing deck and the helm, Gordon watched the holo-tank alertly, straining to see any movement from the Kalaz’an ship as the Valiant slowly changed position.
And, not for the first time, he wondered how his captain was faring eight decks below.
 Iss: in-system standard speed