The explosion rocked Quadrant D. “Everybody go! Let’s move, move, move!” Two dozen soldiers, all armed and armoured to the teeth, ran through the hole blown in the corridor wall. On the far side of it, mutineers lay scattered about the room, some crushed under tables, some on fire, and some just moaning in pain. A few were still standing, and managed to fell three or four of the loyalists before being gunned down themselves. The unit leader, satisfied that her work was done, touched the tiny device in her ear. “Captain, the Quadrant D secondary debriefing room is clear.”
“Good,” Fiona’s voice sounded in her ear. “Anything there?”
The unit leader scanned the room, and reported back what she saw. “No. Nothing of note. About a dozen mutineers, two tables, a dozen or so chairs – they weren’t even using the monitor or any of the equipment.”
“Then what were they doing there?” Fiona mused. “Clearly not debriefing.”
“With your permission, ma’am, they may have been debriefing, but not using the equipment. Could have been verbal, so there were no records of it.”
Back on the bridge, Fiona nodded. “Good thinking. Good work, Lauren. Move on to your next target.”
“Yes ma’am!” came the voice from across the transmitter.
Fiona cut the line. She was standing on the raised portion of the bridge of the Victory, in constant communication with her unit leaders. Apparently, now, she had a bit of breathing time. She took a deep breath and walked over to the navigator, staring worriedly out the vast window into the remnants of space. He was not seated at his massive control desk before the window, as he had little to do; the ship’s computer could handle remaining still very well on its own.
Farthing turned at Fiona’s approach. “A brief respite?”
The captain nodded. “For now. My five teams have moved through all of Quadrant B and resecured it, and I have two teams occupying Quadrant C, making sure the aliens don’t go to Montoya and that the ship continues to function.”
“And Quadrant D?”
“We’re working on it,” Fiona replied. “We’ve determined that that’s where Montoya must be. And Archie as well.”
“And Dr. Williams?”
“Yes. She had better still be alive.”
Someone spoke into Fiona’s earpiece, and she turned away and began to pace as she continued to coordinate the attacks.
Farthing continued to stare out into space, at the column of dust in front of them. Admiral, I know you’re in there. We need you. Come back out.
The wall burst open and a gout of flame rushed through, immediately followed by a dozen heavily armed soldiers. “Hold your fire!” screeched the unit leader, and the troops fanned out around the room. The leader turned to the only standing figure who had been inside. “Dr. Williams! Good to see you. Where’re your captors?”
The doctor pointed down at her feet, there the scorched body of Archie lay. “Right there. Just him. Acting independently of Montoya, I believe. There is a third party here, but let’s not worry about that at the moment. Is there a safe way back to the command deck?”
The unit leader nodded. “Go through that hole we just blew and take a right. Anything past that point should be safe and secure. Three of my soldiers will escort you back, just in case. The captain’s been worried about you.”
Dr. Williams nodded in thanks. “Can one of them carry Archie? I think I may be able to extract something useful from him.”
As she spoke, Archie rolled over and groaned. A dozen rifles were immediately pointed at him.
“Don’t worry, he’s not harming anybody,” Dr. Williams said brightly.
“Alright…” the unit leader replied cautiously. “Byrnes, Thayer, Muthall, escort Dr. Williams and her… charge… back to the command deck. Rejoin us in the mess hall three corridors down.”
Three salutes followed the leader’s orders, and one of the soldiers assigned to Dr. Williams hoisted Archie over his shoulder. “What happened to him?” another one asked casually as the four of them walked out of the room, leaving the remainder of the unit to their own devices. “It looks like he was grilled alive.”
Dr. Williams smiled enigmatically. “As apt a description as any.”
“Damn, damn, damn!” Montoya threw his cybergar onto the ground in rage. “She’s not supposed to blow up her own goddamn ship!”
“It’s the admiral’s,” said one of his cronies, standing next to the chief mutineer’s makeshift throne. “Not hers. She never did have any respect for the material things of this universe.”
Montoya did not reply, instead staring out into space. He reached for where his cybergar usually was, then cursed when he did not find it. “Fucking shit. Who knew she was going to mount an offensive of this size?”
“We’ve only lost Quadrant B and what little we had in C,” another crony added helpfully.
Montoya stood up, stepped forward, and hit the man across his face. He collapsed to the ground. “No smart talk,” he snarled. “Fiona’s forces are closing fast; they’re only five corridors away from this messhall. We need to think-”
An explosion rocked the room, and then there was gunfire. Lots of it.
A few seconds later, the room was full of corpses. Fiona’s soldiers swarmed inside, checking the corpses. One of them knelt next to Montoya and checked his pulse, pulling off an armoured glove. He turned to his commander. “Sir, he’s alive, but barely.”
His commander nodded. “Gotten, Hraub, get Montoya to Dr. Williams pronto. The captain will want him alive.” As his troopers leapt to obey, the commander turned on his earpiece. “Catpain?”
“We’ve got Montoya. Barely alive, but still breathing. We’re sending him to the good doctor now.”
Fiona’s relief was almost audible. “Thank goodness. Thank you, lieutenant.”
“It’s an honor,” he responded, and then the captain cut the link.
He turned to his soldiers. “Let’s clean up this place!”
“The Victor is in our custody. I repeat, the Victor is in our custody. Please lay down your arms and allow active military personnel to escort you to your new quarters. The fight is over. Please cooperate. It is best for all of us this way.”
Fiona cut the transmission and leaned back in her chair. Or, rather, Lori Farmer’s chair. Lori sat on the edge of the raised portion of the bridge, feet dangling over Fiona’s head. The Communications Officer had managed to patch through the hijacked intercom system, and thought she could get it working fully again in less than twenty-four hours, much to Fiona’s relief. Hopefully now the fighting will stop. Accompanying the broadcast sent out to the entire ship, in order to convince people to stop fighting, was a video image of Montoya lying in the sickbay, with Dr. Williams frantically hooking him up to machinery.
Thank goodness the doctor’s back. Don’t know what we’d do without her.
“Captain?” Lori said from above.
Fiona looked up. “Yes?”
“Can I have my chair back?”
It was a long trek down, and at the bottom of the silvery chasm, Mulligan and Foyer rested, casting worried glances over towards Lacey every few moments. “She might not make it,” Mulligan said softly.
Foyer shook his head. “No, she will. She’s a fighter.” He looked up at the stairs leading to the far side of the gap. “Come on. Let’s go. We need to get out of here.” He started to lift Lacey up, but Mulligan stopped him.
“No. Let me.” The technician lifted up their unconscious friend, and Foyer smiled. They began the long climb up.
The fighting stopped very quickly once news of the Victor’s capture was announced. The mutineers – which consisted of almost half of the remaining population of the Victory - were all filed into a series of burned-out rooms, stuffed together like sardines until they could be sorted out. Fiona was pacing back and forth across the command room, trying to figure out if it would be better to shoot them all or pardon them. No. Shooting is not an option. We need all the humans we can get… and there’s already been enough shooting. Calling the offensive had been one of the hardest decisions Fiona had ever made, and she still wasn’t even sure if it had been right. The admiral won’t be happy when he gets back.
If he gets back.
“No, he will,” Fiona said to herself. “He has to.”
“The Victor cared for us! He was the only one who ever did!” Cheers greeted the speaker’s words, and all eyes in the largest mutineer concentration camp were upon him, lifted up as he was by the hands of others. “And now he’s dead at the hands of the oppressors! Look at us now; we just lay over mutely like sheep to the slaughter! Do you really think we’ll be allowed to live?” Angry shouts followed this pronouncement.
“That’s right! No! We should have gone on fighting! The Victor’s name shall live on! We will never forget!”
“We will never forget!” the crowd roared back.
“We will continue to fight!” shouted the speaker.
“We will continue to fight!”
“And with the Lord’s help, we will emerge Victorious!”
“We have a tale on my planet,” Ra’guul said, standing on a raised platform at the center of a dimly-lit room, surrounded by his fellow sorrows and vagons. “Or had, as my planet no longer exists.” The aliens all listened to him intently.
“It was the tale of Da’kaan the Mighty. He led, in the days before the humans came with their weapons and their death, the mightiest nation of my people, Dra’la’dok’alan’taphat. He ruled as a great and mighty king, achieving his position through his application of justice and wisdom. He was wise and beloved throughout the lands, both inside and outside his own small kingdom. He only conquered when it was needed, and only when it would improve the positions of his subjects. He held all life to be sacred, and even in his wars he killed no one, using nonlethal weaponry.
“Then the humans came down from the sky. They hurled burning ash from the heavens, rained fire upon our cities, flooded our forests and massacred our people. The kingdom of Dra’la’dok’alan’taphat was hidden and secluded in a vale, and it took the humans, weak as they were in those initial days, several days to locate it. When they did, they found that Da’kaan and his people were more than a match for the humans, even in their godlike state, for Da’kaan had been blessed by the power of the great Sleepers. It took the humans a week to drive us back into the tunnels from whence our race had come, and it was only then that Da’kaan fell. But he did not fall because the humans defeated him.”
Ra’guul let the air remain expectant for several moments.
“He fell because he needed to. The Sleepers ordered him to, and he submitted to their will. He became a hero to our enslaved people, unifying the Dra’kat peoples all over the universe, to wherever the human pseudo-gods took us. We Dra’kat never fully gave up hope, however. Death is just the greatest sleep. Da’kaan will return to us one day to save us all, ringing the bell to awaken the Sleepers.”
The trogloid raised his arms up towards the ceiling. “And it has come to pass. The Sleepers brought this calamity upon not us, but the humans. The human priest LaPorte has known this, and defected from his species. He is wise for his bloodstock, and shall be the first among our slaves. His Lord works like our Sleepers, the Dra’kat gods that you have all sworn fealty to.
“Well, the priest and I have been working together, and we have discovered the cause of the crumbling universe.” Ra’guul’s face twisted into what might have passed for a smile amongst a herd of velociraptors. “Our prayers have been answered. The Sleepers have awoken.”