The Ambassador’s ship tumbled into the endless dark, fires blossoming within to consume what little breathable air the small fighter could produce and Osgood could only think of one thing to remark on.
“This would be an embarrassing sort of end to come to.”
The fire suppression spells had been dispelled when the ship suffered catastrophic damage at the hands of the Purist’s secondary defense batteries. To the credit of the Imperial spellwrights who crafted the fighter, personal scale craft like the one Osgood was trapped in were rarely capable of standing up to a single barrage from a capital ship much less the half dozen that Osgood’s had weathered. That he wasn’t a fine smear of space dust was a testament to the durability the Empire had always required in its fighting craft.
The advantage to that sort of design philosophy was that while the ship had been reduced to a mismatched collection of metal and wood scraps with less than ten percent of its original spell framework remaining, the pilot within was still capable of action, and in Osgood’s case that meant he wasn’t out of tricks to play yet.
“If my luck was good, I’d still have the primary engine crystals that I could draw on for another spell,” he said into the flight recorder in case someone was curious what an Imperial Ambassador tried to do when he was otherwise adrift in space. There wasn’t anything in the official Ambassadorial playbook for that situation, so Osgood took a few pages from his old “Hellsreach Critical Situations Manual”.
That’s what the Hellsreach Critical Situations Manual said. It was pretty much the beginning and end of the manual, and Osgood had never had cause to disagree with it’s wisdom.
“Primary engine crystals jettisoned,” the analysis imp said.
Osgood cursed. Rigging engine crystals to explode on contact with the enemy was an old Hellsreach trick. It had a long and venerable heritage and was, in part, why no one in their right mind stole vehicles on Titanus. The colonists didn’t have a good reason to leave their vehicles as fully primed death traps, but some old habits die hard. Especially ones that produce such wonderfully colorful light displays.
“Secondary crystals?” he asked the imp.
The secondary engines on a fighter couldn’t produce anywhere near as much of a bang as the primaries but they would at least let him control the flight of the craft to a degree.
“Secondary crystals ejected and detonated,” the imp reported. “Fifty percent damage to enemy dreadnaught forward capture array detected.”
So, on the good side, the Purists weren’t going to be able to haul Osgood in. On the bad side, he had few options for getting anywhere useful himself. Normally that wouldn’t have been the case. Real fighter pilots were chosen for their capacity at Physical anima manipulation to ensure that even if the ship lost all of its engine power, the caster onboard would be able to get it home, slowly, with their own magics.
Unlike a real pilot, Osgood had many skills, but a talent for Physical anima casting was not one of them.
“Wonderful,” he said. “We get to do this the hard way then.”
For a Mental anima caster, replicating the effect of physical spells involved playing within the rules of physics and finding a method to outsmart them. This often involves explosions when great amount of force were required. In Osgood’s case though such pyrotechnics were not an option. His own ship was rapidly dwindling to possess as much power as a dim matchstick and the only other ships which had the energy to arrest his flight into the void were all busy trying to blast each other into microscopic particles.
All of them except the colony ship.
“This is Imperial Ambassador Pryas to Colony Ship,” he called out on a wide focus telepathic spell. “I will be within range of your aft capture beam within one minute and thirty seconds. Bring me on board.”
“Ambassador?” a panicked young man replied back. “What are you doing out here?”
“Getting that dreadnaught off you, I hope,” Osgood said.
“You did,” the young man said. “They’re fighting the ships that came from the station and the blocking field around us has dropped.”
“Yes, the Void caster who was channel it is have a nice enchanted nap,” Osgood said. “One minute to capture beam contact.”
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to catch you Ambassador,” the young man said. “I read you as passing just outside out our projection cone.”
“No worries there,” Osgood said. “My ship and I will be separating in fifteen seconds. Just look for me, I’ll be within the beam’s capture radius.”
Exhaling heavily, Osgood activated the environmental shield on his suit, used what little Physical anima prowess his had and the remnants of the ship’s maneuvering jets to position himself properly and then pulled the ejection seat cord.
Ejection seats in a space craft are, generally speaking, not a standard option. At best they can’t impart much velocity to the pilot and de-orbiting in just an ejection seat is something only a very few spellcasters are capable of safely. Osgood had selected one of the fighters that contained an ejection seat though because sometimes you don’t need a lot of power, sometimes you need just a little bit exercised at exactly the right time and in the right manner.
The blast from the ejection seat was significantly weaker than it should have been due to the damaged state of the craft but even so it was enough to send Osgood hurtling into space and towards the colony ship, while the remains of his fighter drifted ever farther away.
Sitting in a depowered chair, with only the analysis imp to keep him company, Osgood stared at the sheer magnitude of the cosmos that surrounded him. Billions of points of light. So much life in so many different varieties and yet the close life forms to him, the Purist dreadnaught, were obsessed with murdering everything that wasn’t life them. Or that sympathized with those not like them.
If he’d possessed the power, Osgood would have crushed their ship like tinfoil and reduced them all to space jelly, and for that he was very glad to be as powerless as he was. It was a flaw in his species, and the Garjarack too, that destruction was wired into their psychology on a primal level.
Destroying things felt good. Destroying things that posed a danger felt better, and it was far too easy to convince oneself that people who were different were a danger.
Far away, little more than a pale dot, though, Osgood saw the light shining off of Titanus. In just a few years it had become his home in a way that Hellsreach never had been. It wasn’t a perfect place by any stretch of the imagination. The Purists they were fighting called it home as well for one thing, and they weren’t the only source of conflict on the planet that played host to three major racial groups and dozens of smaller ones.
Osgood remembered Hellsreach though. For everything that was wrong with Titanus, Hellsreach had been worse. Especially in the early days of the war there that predated his birth by over a century. Titanus wasn’t perfect but it was proof that people could change for the better, which, if anything, placed a heavier burden on them to make sure events like the one unfolding before Osgood never occurred. On Hellsreach this sort of attack was expected, accepted and even (occasionally) applauded. People had the excuse of “being at war” and “not knowing any better”. None of that could be the case on Titanus. There was no reason to expect this kind of violence, no reason to accept it and no excuse for people not knowing how to be better.
That was Osgood’s last thought before the capture beam grabbed ahold of him. If he’d been able to feel the force of the beam, he wouldn’t have been surprised that it was like getting pummeled with a sledgehammer over every square inch of his body. It was meant to capture other ships for docking after all, not tiny things like a single human body. As it was though he was unconscious well before the first blow had any chance to register in his awareness.
A wish for better days was Osgood’s last thought before the capture beam bludgeoned him unconscious and, in a rare case of a wish being granted, his first thought on awakening was how nice it was to see his husband’s smiling face waiting for him. Even if Hector was wrapped up in healing bandages not unlike a mummy.
“This doesn’t count as breakfast in bed,” Osgood said.
“It would if it was breakfast time,” Hector said.
“How long have I been out?” Osgood asked.
“Almost two days,” Hector said. “You looked about as bad as I feel, but they managed to put most of the important bits back where they belong.”
“I should hope so,” Osgood said. “I’m rather attached to my bits.”
“And fortunately for me, they’re still attached to you!” Hector said with a devilish smile.
Osgood tried to smirk in response but even that simple motion hurt. He’d calculated everything about getting into the capture beam correctly, but it occurred to him that he hadn’t run a full set of data on just how good or bad an idea that would be. Given that the alternative was burning up, and then freezing to a popsicle in the far reaches of the solar system though, he guessed that whatever the numbers said he would have been stuck making the same choice.
“It looks like you could use some more pain killers,” a young man, the same one from the colony ship if Osgood was hearing his voice correctly, said.
Looking around Osgood noticed that he wasn’t alone with Hector. There was a small army of children assembled in the recovery room.
“Yes, that would be nice,” he said and then glance at his husband to setup a telepathic link. “And who would all of these little people be?”
“These are the colonists,” Hector said, telepathically, “Some of them at any rate.”
“Why are they all children?” Osgood asked.
“It was the wrong colony ship,” Hector said.
“It was the what?” Osgood asked.
“The wrong ship,” Hector said. “Not, technically, a colony ship at all I suppose, but still big enough to count as one I guess. A small one.”
“Yes, ok, but…children?” Osgood asked.
“The Mist Runner, your ‘colony ship’, was registered to the Sister’s of Water’s Mercy,” Hector said. “It’s an orphanage ship.”
“The Purist’s attacked an orphage? Are you kidding me?” Osgood asked.
“I wish I was,” Hector said. “And so do they. News reports up to a hundred systems out are having a field day with this.”
“Oh…oh no,” Osgood said, envisioning what that meant in one horrible moment of clarity.
“Yes, ‘Hero Ambassador Saves Ship Full of Orphans!’, and since you were acting in an official capacity, they’ve been plastering your name all over every broadcast they can,” Hector said.
“Oh gods, that’s ridiculous though,” Osgood said. “I fired one shot! My squadron did all the real work. Wait, my squadron, how did the battle turn out?”
“Fourteen fighter craft were lost, nine of those pilots are in critical condition still, the rest were healed and returned to duty yesterday,” Hector said.
“And the Purists?” Osgood asked.
“They breeched their warp crystals rather than be taken in,” Hector said. “That explosion is what took out six of your squadron.”
“Did any of them hit the escape pods before that?” Osgood asked.
Hector grimaced and shook his head.
“Damn,” Osgood said. “Still not quite at that better tomorrow then.”
“Maybe not,” Hector said. “But recruitment in Purist movements on both sides are down. We’ve even had some people stepping forward to turn in cells that were planning attacks in the next few weeks.”
“Hopefully that’ll last,” Osgood said.
“It won’t, not all of it, not right away,” Hector said. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”
“And a great big target on my back,” Osgood said.
“You’ve got quite the collection back there,” Hector said. “I’m trying to remember if I ever took my own bullseye off you?”
“You’ve had plenty of opportunities to catch me if you wanted to to,” Osgood said.
“What makes you think I don’t have you right where I want you?” Hector asked and bent over to give his husband a quick kiss.
The children tittered at the display of affection and went back to their original activity which was, apparently, softly humming.
“So, I get that we saved them, but why are they here, in my room?” Osgood asked.
“They’re helping you heal,” Hector said. “The Sister’s train the children that they take in. These are in the early stages of learning to be Clerics. They can’t do much spell casting yet, but they can channel their physical anima, so they’re surrounding you with a dense field of it so that your body has plenty to draw from as it repairs itself. Or at least that’s what the Sister who stopped in earlier explained.”
“That’s very nice of them,” Osgood said. “But what’s going to happen to them next?”
“The Mist Runner is being repaired but it’s going to take a month to get it space worthy again, so they’re going to need a place to stay in the interim,” Hector said.
“Has a spot been selected yet?” Osgood asked, a dim premonition worming into his mind.
“Well, now that you mention it…” Hector began, and smiled broadly at Osgood.
Between his exposure to the vacuum of space, the damage from the capture beam and the madness of the battle it took Osgood a moment to catch on to what Hector was saying. As he did his eyes widened in shock.
“You’re not really thinking…” he began.
“It’s just for a month,” Hector said. “And you could use the day-to-day care.”
“Gods help me,” Osgood. “An entire house full of kids.Only madness can await us!”