The Blockade Runner wasn’t Gabe’s favorite ship class. Sure, they were uniformly fast as hell and usually well armored and shielded, but that came with an obvious cost.
“I’m scoring direct hits on this damn thing and they’re not even singeing it,” he grumbled.
The damn thing in question was a War Beast. Maybe the same War Beast that had already killed him once.
“Maybe not but you’ve definitely got it’s attention,” Luna said. “I’m trying to get it off your tail but it’s just not interested in me at all.”
Gabe saw a burst of static flash past the left viewport and slammed the Blockade Runner’s primary engines into overthrust mode.
Real asteroid belts were so sparsely populated that you could fly through them and not be aware of any asteroids around you at all. Asteroid belts in the Crystal Stars though tended to follow the popular image generated by decades of space moves.
At Overthrust speeds, the close packed rocks in front of him became an ever changing wall of death which was just waiting for him to go crashing into it.
A lifetime of piloting he hadn’t actually lived moved his body with the calm precision of one of the world’s best fighter pilots, slipping through the narrow gaps and thin openings while the War Beast was slowed by plowing through and destroying the asteroids in its path.
“I’m about a minute from clearing the belt,” Gabe said, easing off on the Overthrust before he melted one of the Blockade Runner’s engines. “What do think? Do a dip into the gas giant for a recharge or flip around for another strafing run?”
“Gas giant’s the safer play,” Luna said. “With your current shield strength you should be able to dive low enough that your trail will get muddled. That might let us setup another ambush for it.”
“I don’t know that our ambushes are doing much good,” Gabe said. “This thing’s self repair rating is through the roof.”
“I’m still trying to get through the Crystal Empire’s high command,” Luna said. “Help shouldn’t be far off from what the folks on ‘Lost Here 4 Real’ are saying. We’ve got at least two bomber squadrons en route. We just have to keep that thing from warping away until they get here.”
“Keeping it here doesn’t seem to be a problem,” Gabe said, reaching for the Overthrust control again as the edge of the asteroid belt approached. In the distance he could make out Volkis IV and all the free hydrogen it had to offer.
The Blockade Runner lurched just as he began to engage the Overthruster and an explosion sent him pinwheeling through space.
“Gabe! Hard Burn! Now!” Ti’el, Luna’s alter-ego, commanded.
The pilot Gabe had never really been responded to that command without the need for conscious though. The stars blurred as every engine on the Blockade Runner was pushed passed it’s maximum safety level and driven deep into their critical zones.
He hadn’t been able to course correct, so Gabe had no idea where he was rocketing off too, but he was definitely getting there fast.
As he fought the acceleration that was getting past his inertial dampeners, he spared a glance at the displays that surrounded him. Thousands of numbers were available, but he knew exactly which ones to look at. Or someone in his head did? It didn’t matter in the moment though, not when he saw that his shields were gone. Not just depleted but completely stripped away with zero regeneration happening. A dozen spot sensors were dead as well, with their neighbors screening warnings about failing structural integrity.
“It missed you,” Luna said. “Not a direct hit, but it looked bad anyways.”
“It was,” Gave said. “Thanks for the call out. How much distance do I have from it? My rear sensors are gone.”
“You’re at about ten thousand kilometers and rising. How much longer can you run at a hard burn?”
“I can make it to Volkis,” Gave said, basing that more on determination than a full appraisal of his chances. “No idea if I can make it out of Vokis though.”
“Head there. You’ve got no cover now and that thing looks like its charging up for another shot.”
“Where are you?” Gabe asked.
“About a thousand kilometers behind it, trying to move into optimal weapon’s range,” Ti’el said. “It’s got some odd coloration on it’s hindquarters. We’re hoping those might be weak spots.”
“Did someone say weak spots!” a new voice called out as portals from warp space began to open ahead of Gabe’s flight path. On the comm’s the pilot was tagged as “Astra”.
“Bomber squadron? You made it here?” Gabe asked, relief flooding his voice.
“Yep! And your ship’s telemetry is not looking too good,” Astra said.
“That’s because it’s one shot away from becoming space debris,” Gabe said. “Would you be so kind as to blow that War Beast into tiny gooey fragments?”
“We’ve got target lock on it now,” Astra said. “What kind of defenses is it packing?”
In answer the War Beast released a beam of static ten kilometers wide. The bomber’s took evasive action but they weren’t as fast or agile as the Blockade Runners. Two of bombers were clipped by the beam when they failed to avoid it’s path. Both depowered instantly, floating through space like dead husks with sizable pieces missing.
“Avoid the path the beam took,” Luna said. “There are filaments of that static stuff that stay behind.”
“Roger that,” Astra said, her calm, professional demeanor leading Gabe to wonder if she actually was a combat pilot in real life.
“It’s charging up for another shot,” Luna said. “I’m going to try something.”
“Kick it’s ass!” Gabe said to cover his concern.
A part of him was terrified for her. His crush on Luna had not grown any less intense since meeting her in person and battling for their lives together in the Crystal Stars.
At the same time though, he knew her. She was skilled, and resourceful, and she knew how to take care of herself. None of those were a guarantee that she’d make it through what she was attempting, but that was her call. They both have plenty of insurance restorations paid for, and he wasn’t going to treat her like a fragile little doll who needed to be told what to do. She was his partner, more now than ever before, and she’d had his respect far longer than that.
Diverting power from his forward sensors to the repair modules resulted in him flying blind for a few seconds, but his sensor array came back online in time for him to watch Luna finish closing the distance with the War Beast with a hard burn of her own.
She overshot the monster five second before it loosed its next shot.
At four seconds till the shot, she was well in front of the War Beast and just outside her Blockade Runner’s optimal firing range.
At three seconds, she cut her engines.
At two seconds, she flipped the Blockade Runner a hundred and eighty degrees.
At one second, facing the War Beast head-on, she slammed her engines back on, redlining them just a Gabe had.
The distance between the two evaporated.
With some tiny fraction of a second left before the beast fired, Luna cut her engines, and unleashed every forward facing weapon system she had on the War Beast’s open maw.
And then she was gone.
Gabe breathed a sigh of relief when his sensors picked up the telemetry ping of a warp gate opening.
Her shots hadn’t reduced the War Beast’s structural integrity by more than a few percentage points, but that hadn’t been her goal. Startled by the attack, the War Beast belched out another static beam which passed through the opposite side of the portal from the one Luna had entered.
Gabe’s sensors showed a tremendous explosion as the static beam detonated against something in warp space, but with that beam diverted, the bombers were able to finish closing the distance and unleash their payload against the War Beast.
They followed Luna’s example and warped out before the bombs reached their target, which proved to wise because even twenty thousand kilometers away, Gabe’s Blockade Runner registered the impact of the explosions that followed.
Space is a vacuum, which means there’s no medium to transmit shockwaves through. Unless of course your explosives are set to summon matter from warp space specifically so that there will be a medium to help contain and focus the blast.
“Did we get it?” Luna asked.
“Scanning now,” Gabe said, delighted to hear her voice.
Another beam of static roared past him, missing his position by five thousand kilometers but it was still in the right general direction.
“That’s a negative,” he said. “It’s still alive.”
“Damn! I’m calculating my position now. Probably at least an hour from getting back there though.”
“Do we have any more squadrons coming in?” Gabe asked.
“We did,” Astra said.
“What does that mean?” Gabe asked.
“That thing’s breath? It’s tearing up warp space too. It’s getting a bit dangerous to fly in here,” Astra said.
“From where I opened the portal?” Luna asked.
“No. It looks like every time it breaths, it’s destroying real space and warp space,” Astra said. “It’s tearing this universe apart.”
Izzy felt the ground trembling under her and knew she was supposed to be afraid, terrified beyond reason, but all she could do was smile.
Taking her headphones off, she gazed around in wonder at the pristine beach that stretched before her. The clouds above were thick enough with pent up rain to darken what had to be the midday sky and the land and sea below into deep shadows.
Despite the coming storm, Izzy felt a warm ocean breeze billowing through her t-shirt and shorts while the soft sand at her feet squished up through her toes.
That she’d been studying in her dorm room five seconds prior made the experience just a bit disorienting, though a part of her knew exactly where she was.
She was with the creature that had tried to destroy her.
It wasn’t a small thing, though some awareness told her it once had been. Just a tiny glitch, nothing more than a spark of wrongness that had somehow slipped into the world. Slipped in and broken – itself, the courtyard in her dorm, the walls outside her room, everything it touched.
Izzy lived on the third floor, in a room that overlooked the dorm’s central courtyard. She didn’t think she’d been the first to see the creature of static and malice arise. People had been screaming. That’s what had brought her to look out the window.
No one seemed to know what the monster that had appeared before them was.
By the time Izzy caught sight of it, it towered over the dorm, a visual flaw in reality in a shape that might have been inspired by a biped but could never have been human.
Looking at it hurt her eyes. It hurt her mind. The thing-that-wasn’t-even-a-thing was trying to get inside her neurons, trying to wrap itself around her thoughts and devour them or corrupt them or erase them.
She felt like she was falling out the window towards it, or that she was steady in her room but that the whole world was toppling away from gravity’s pull and into rending maw of the creature that could not be in front of her.
It couldn’t be there, and yet it was, and yet it couldn’t be there.
“So what?” Izzy said, pulling herself back into the world, or pulling the world back into her.
She wasn’t food for some cosmic mistake.
She dreamed of too many monsters not to recognize one when it stood before her.
Without consciously understanding how she could do it, her spirit rose in defiance and, as the creature slammed something like a hand down, erasing the ceiling, her room and herself, she grabbed onto it and pulled it across an unfathomable void.
She hadn’t expected to wind up on a beach in the South Pacific. She hadn’t expected to even survive the attempt to drag the creature away from her home to somewhere else. Somewhere safe.
For a very odd definition of ‘safe’.
Below her the ground shook even more but it wasn’t the creature that was doing it.
With a roar that could never be mistaken for anything else, a giant radioactive form rose from the ocean.
The static creature was a monster. Izzy knew that.
So she’d brought it into one of her favorite moves to meet the King of Monsters.