The two Tellaran patrol ships dropped out of stealth mode as the battle between the Gitarans and the Dellars came to an end. It would be a race to save as many as they could while still staying alive themselves.
The Tellarans’ shields were up; more to avoid being hit by the maze of random space debris all around them than as a defence against enemies. They each moved towards a ship that needed help.
The Gitaran on the screen was a frantic man with a cut above his right temple. All of the officers on the deck had been killed in the final run on their ship.
“You’re not going to get us alive! We’ll blow the ship first!” The injured man on the viewscreen said as he avoided a piece of the ceiling that came crashing down.
Captain Tarija was a patient woman. Her voice radiated calm and compassion. “We are not here to harm you. We are only here to help.”
The Gitaran shouted above the crackles of fires, shorting panels and people moaning or screaming in pain, “You’re helping the Dellars! You must be working with them.”
“We help those who are in need regardless of who they are. Let us come onboard. We will render medical assistance and assess the condition of your ship. We will also provide safe escort back to your home territory.”
The man shouted, “This must be a trick!”
“Have your people meet my team at your shuttle bay. If you do not trust them, you can hold weapons on them while they work. They will not be armed.”
Either there was more noise over on the Gitaran ship than was being conveyed over the speakers or the man only knew how to shout. “I still don’t trust you!”
“You don’t need to trust us in order to use our help. From the rate your ship is deteriorating, you don’t have many options left.”
The Gitaran looked around at his dying ship. He said grudgingly, “Alright. We’ll meet you at the shuttle bay. But no weapons.”
As the screen became blank, Captain Tarija stood up. “Lieutenant, take the teams over. You’ll have to concentrate on getting their primary reactor under control first before the whole thing blows.”
As Tarija gave further instructions, Cally said to Argus, “I could help their medical team. I’d like to go over.”
“That’s a good idea but be careful, they’re going over unarmed.”
Vila and Corinne looked at each other. Vila said, “We’d like to help too.”
Reya said, “I would also like to render assistance.”
Argus nodded. “Alright.” He stood up and went over to where Tarija was giving last minute orders. “Captain, my crew would like to offer their help.”
Tarija thought for a moment, “We would welcome your aid but they need to follow the lead of my people.”
“That won’t be a problem. I’d like to stay onboard to see how you handle things on this end.”
“You are anticipating trouble?”
“As you said, there are always people who prey on the weak.”
Once you've seen the space battles to end all space battles, you would expect that everything else would pale by comparison. There was nothing new to see. At least, that was what Vila thought.
They’d never stayed around long enough to see the real end.
Vila had operated the neutron blaster controls on the Liberator for years. It didn't seem real sometimes, more like old vid-games he used to play. He was always very good at those games and he had been very good at the neutron blasters. One didn’t seem that much different from the other. You aimed, pressed a few buttons and you won. That was the goal of any game.
He’d never thought of the people working on the ships he had to destroy. In games, they were just ships. No people involved. When it had become real, it was easier to continue thinking of them that way.
As he worked with the Tellarans who dealt with the aftermath of other people's battles, the human cost became very real to him. After all the shooting stops, there were no enemies anymore, no more personal agendas, just people dying or trying not to die.
He had never thought of the poor maintenance worker stuck in a shaft while sealing foam suffocated him because the ship had been holed. Vila shivered. He still remembered poor Nova.
He’d never imagined the other people sitting on the flight deck one minute and then sucked out into space the next. How many seconds did a person survive while they came face-to-face with their own death? Did their lives flash before them, like it did in the vid-dramas? What were their last thoughts as they realized that they would not survive to go home? That their children would no longer have a father?
It was hard not to think of them as people now when his hands were covered in their blood or when he cradled them in his arms as they lay dying.
As Vila placed a sealing pad over a large leg gash in the man he was helping, he glanced around him at his crewmates. Corinne was helping Cally to close up a serious chest wound. Reya was half-carrying someone else as the less critically injured made their way to the shuttle bay. The ship was being abandoned. Its engines were damaged beyond repair.
This was the fifth ship they had helped so far. Even though it was terrible seeing all the death and destruction close up, Vila felt good because he was helping. He wondered if the others felt the same way.
His mother had told him once, those who lived by the phaser died by the cannon. It didn't matter who started the wrong, the violence would never end until someone stopped. Then she'd say sadly that usually it meant that both sides had all killed each other. Violence never solved anything. It only fooled you into thinking it did.
As Vila grew older, he found that what his mother had taught him was usually right. Even this. Vila didn’t want to kill anymore but he wouldn’t mind doing what the Tellarans were doing.
“Captain, there are five ships headed this way. Two minutes out.”
Captain Tarija leaned forward in her seat, “Put them onscreen.”
The main view screen showed five Gitaran ships in attack formation.
She asked, “Are their weapons charged?”
“Yes, Captain and their shields are up.”
“Is everyone back onboard?”
“No. The medical teams report there are several people who can’t be moved until they’ve been stabilized.”
Tarija sighed. “Bring our shields up once they get into firing range. Launch the remote shield. Argus, you may see our weapons after all.”
Vila looked nervously at the malfunctioning screen of the dying ship. There was no mistaking the five ships in attack formation coming towards them. He looked behind him at Cally and Corinne. They were frantically trying to save the man with a chest and abdominal wound. He knew there were other Tellarans on the ship helping others. None of them would leave until they could get their charges safely back on the ship.
He used the comm unit he had been given, “Lieutenant, there are five ships in attack formation coming this way.”
“Acknowledged. I am sending the first shuttle back to the ship. How is the status of the people on the command deck?”
The lieutenant didn’t sound concerned that five attack ships were going to be knocking at their door any minute now. Vila hoped that meant that the Tellarans had a few tricks up their sleeves.
They still had three seriously injured people on the command deck; people who couldn't be moved yet. Corinne’s patient and one of the others didn’t look like they were going to make it. “They’re still working on them. We’re going to need more time.”
“Understood. Let me know when they’re ready. I’ll send more people to help you when I can.”
Vila saw something racing out from the Tellaran patrol ship. It was a round object the size of several life pods. What is that? He hoped it was one of the Tellaran weapons they hadn’t seen yet. They could sure use one now.
The object came close and slowed down. Vila lost sight of it until he could hear a slight clang. The thing had attached itself to the ship. I hope this is good.
All of a sudden, the screen turned green. Vila looked down at the control panel in front of him. With so many things broken, it was hard to tell what was wrong. He looked up at the screen again. A sheen of green extended out from the ship until it formed a coloured barrier several meters out in front of them. It seemed to surround the entire ship.
“It’s a shield!” Vila was really starting to love the Tellarans.
“A portable shield generator?” asked Argus as he saw a green screen extend around the disabled ship.
Captain Tarija replied distractedly as she looked down at her command panel, “Yes. It has limited capacity but it will keep them safe until we deal with the attackers.”
“Captain, shields are up.”
“Alright, open up a comm channel,” directed Tarija.
“This is Captain Tarija of the Tellar Union. We have no hostile intentions. We only wish to save the people from the ship. Once we do, you can destroy it if you wish.”
It almost seemed as if a snarl appeared on the view screen first before the rest of the Gitaran leader. “And we are here to kill everyone.” The Gitaran leader was a heavy-set man with a scar along the side of his nose.
Captain Tarija maintained a calm and pleasant, but firm manner, “You have already won this battle. You have defeated the Dellars. You do not need to kill all of them.”
“We don’t need to.” A cruel smile twisted the man’s lips. “But we want to.” The communications cut off abruptly as phaser cannon blasts raced towards them from three of the Gitaran ships. Two headed for the disabled ship. The other four hit the patrol ship. There was no damage to either one but the damaged ship was visibly shaken when the shots hit the shield.
Tarija contacted the Gitaran leader. “As you can see, your weapons have no impact on this ship.”
The Gitaran said, “Maybe not yours.” The communications cut off again. The Gitaran ships moved to surround them on every side. More phaser blasts raced towards them. This time they were all headed for the damaged ship.
The Tellaran ship moved to intercept one of the shots while the others harmlessly impacted the shields. The damaged Dellar ship was visibly rocked again.
Argus remained as calm as the Tellaran captain but he was very aware that his own people and the Tellarans were helpless on the damaged ship. He wished he had the Justice with him. A few well-placed shots and the problem would disappear. “How limited are the portable shields?”
Tarija had a hard determined look on her face. “At this rate, they can stand another ten minutes.”
Vila clung to the flight station as another blast hit the shields. “Does anyone know how long those shields last?” No one answered. Either no one knew or they were afraid to tell him.
He ran over to where Cally and Corinne were still working on their injured man. “How’s he doing? Can we move him yet?”
Cally lifted blood soaked hands from the man’s chest. “We’re ready.” She picked up a cloth and tried to wipe as much of it off as she could. “Are the others?”
Vila had been keeping track of the other medical teams. He responded, “Yes, most of the teams are headed for the shuttles now. One of them will need another five minutes.”
The lieutenant in charge of the boarding party and Reya raced in carrying makeshift stretchers. The lieutenant went to help the other remaining injured man while Reya asked, “Cally, can we move your patient?”
“Yes, he’s ready.”
Vila helped roll the man carefully onto the stretcher. They carried him quickly to the shuttle bay even as more shots hit the shields, nearly causing them to drop the injured man.
The leader of the Gitarans had refused further contact with them. The blasts racing across from the ships were like sheets of deadly fire.
Captain Tarija said, “The teams are taking too long. We’re going to have to employ stronger measures. Ready the DC-wave. Open the comm channel.”
Captain Tarija’s voice was grim but regretful. “This is Captain Tarija. This is your final warning. If you do not desist in your attacks, I will be forced to respond with stronger measures. Your ships will be disabled.”
The leader of the Gitarans finally appeared on the screen again. “Try it.” The screen went blank.
Tarija sighed. “Weapons officer, whenever you’re ready. I want all the ships disabled except their command ship.”
Argus watched the screen with fascination. It was hard to know what to expect. He was familiar with all forms of ship weapons from lasers, phaser cannons, torpedoes and blasters.
The Tellaran weapons were none of these. He heard the weapon before he saw it; a sudden rumble of sound, like a thunderstorm. Then more rumbles in quick succession. Argus couldn’t see anything; no tracers, no torpedoes, not even lights racing out towards the other ships. But they all suddenly stopped firing, except for the command ship.
“What happened?” asked Argus in surprise.
Captain Tarija explained, “It was a directed compression wave.”
The command ship had stopped firing as well. The Gitaran leader appeared on the screen and demanded, “What did you do to my ships?”
“I did warn you. If you did not desist, I would disable your ships. Or in this case, your crew. Don’t worry. They are still alive but they will be unconscious for two hours. Do not fire your weapons again until we leave. If you do, I will also disable your ship and you will be completely defenceless.”
The Gitaran leader was angry but even he was not that stupid. He backed down and let them continue evacuating people. After the Tellarans were finished and heading away, their scanners registered the Gitarans destroying the damaged ship that was left behind.
Vila said, "A spiteful lot, aren't they?"
Cally asked Captain Tarija, "Are any of these people influenced by what you do for them? Do they change?"
Tarija shook her head sadly, "Some, but not enough. There have been people who come to us because they are sick of the fighting and violence. They know we will provide a refuge for them. Some of the people on this ship come from other worlds."
Reya said, "Then you are doing a good thing. You are making a difference."
"A little. We will not give up though. We will continue trying."
Corinne had been silent but she spoke up, "You've made a difference on Chandar. My mother was on one of your patrols when she was captured. She never forgot what she was trying to do even though she was alone and hurt. It was why my father learned to love her."
After a full day, everyone was tired but happy. They had saved many lives today and shepherded others back to their home territories. Now it was time to go home.
Everyone leaned back against their seats on the command deck and passed around trays of refreshing beverages, fruits and cheeses.
Vila asked, “Argus, could we go on missions like this? I mean with our ship.”
Argus had been very quiet since the others came back. He had also been affected by the events of today. “We can discuss it when we’re all together. I can’t see why we can’t do something like this as well.”
Kerr wanted to be alone. He’d found a crawlspace that led along one of the classroom corridors. Ventilation shafts where only small children could hide. They’d be trying to find him soon enough. The people in the school had been keeping a close eye on him lately.
He brought his hand up to his head and rubbed it. It always hurt these days. He didn’t know why. All he knew was that he wanted to hide. Sometimes, he wished he could be just a brain; like a machine that couldn’t feel anything.
His brother had come to visit him the other day. Not his parents. Just the brother with a warm smile and a painful message. His parents had put him in this special program. He was lucky to have been chosen. He should be grateful.
Why didn’t his parents come to tell him themselves? Questions of why were met with evasion.
Why was his brother being nice to him? He never had before. Even though Kerr loved his brother, he knew that his brother had always been jealous of him. He’d never said anything but Kerr knew from the looks that his brother gave him behind his parents’ backs.
Kerr had tried to be nice to him and to help him but it must have been galling to have a much younger sibling being placed years higher than you are in the same school. People guessed sometimes if they had the same parents or if one of them was adopted. Or they whispered the dreaded “R” word. Sometimes Kerr felt guilty because his brother had a hard time and it was all because of him.
But his brother was the only one who came to see him.
Kerr heard a sound. His ears strained. There it was again. Something or someone was coming. Kerr wasn’t worried, only a child could fit into these tunnels. It could have been Charles or Jack, though it would have been a tough fit for Jack.
He peered around the corner. There was the shape of a shadow coming towards him. Kerr didn’t want company but he was curious who else might be hiding.
The shape came around the corner and bumped into him. “Ouch! Oh…” The shape was afraid and backed away the way it came.
Kerr said, “It’s alright. I’m not going to tell anyone. I’m hiding too.”
“Oh…” The shape seemed indecisive and then it came forward and sat beside him. “You’re hiding too?”
“I already told you I am.” In the shadows, Kerr could make out a slender young boy around his age, perhaps a bit younger. “You’re not from the school, are you?”
“How do you know I’m not?” asked the boy defensively.
“I know all the boys here and you’re not one of them. Besides, you don’t act like an Alpha.”
“You mean I’m not stuck up.”
Kerr was always amused by the attitude of the other grades. They all wanted to be Alphas but they didn’t like them. “Well, an Alpha wouldn’t be crawling around in dark tunnels for one.”
“Does that mean you’re not one?” the boy challenged.
Kerr chuckled. He liked this boy. He might not be an Alpha but he was no idiot. “What are you doing here?”
“You’re not going to tell anyone?”
“No, I promise.”
“Well, my mother works here. She’s one of the nurses. Nurse Re….” At that moment, an alarm began to sound and pain exploded in Avon’s head.