Original Content To Touch The Stars - Episode 0

#1
A/N: Hey, guys! I know, long-time, no update. I wanted to get an update sooner, but work's been busy, I've had other projects ramp up, and I've been struggling with writing a scene that is about a character being stuck in a boring/mind-numbing day without actually writing a boring/mind-numbing scene...

This is also not Episode 3. That is still in the works, and I'm making progress (mostly by skipping around the previously-mentioned scene), but it'll be a bit before it's done. This is a prologue. This scene popped up when I was reflecting on the future of the character, and the story's lack of a proper action hook at the beginning.

So, here it is. I haven't fully run this through my final review phase, so there might be a few errors or rough spots that I missed, and some things might get tweaked, but I wanted to get this out before the weekend. As always, feedback is welcome. I hope you enjoy!


To Touch the Stars​

Episode 0​

A Fearless Universe Story​

By Ilithi Dragon​

Light.

Heat.

Noise.

The flare of a particle beam flashing past her head. The pressure wave and crack of the air ionized by its passage. The clank of her boots on the metal deck and bulkheads. The light thump of her carbine against her shoulder.

She registered all of these things. They existed for her.

Target. Her carbine jerked against her shoulder and whined twice. Blood, steam, viscera. Moving. False beams tracked across her vision, showing the aim paths of her weapon and those of her enemies.

Her mind was awash with data, sensation.

Grenade. Straining muscles. Highlighted path of arc. Catch. Throw back. Drop behind her recent target for cover. Magazine low. Swap for fresh. Explosion. Back up. Dodge. Evade. Fire again. Next target.

More information than she ever processed before flooded into her mind.

But the only thing she felt was rage. A cold, seething, unbridled rage.

Rage at what they had done. To her. To her family. To her entire people. To half the known galaxy. What they would try to do to her ship. The crew that was her new family.

Plasma bolts flashed past her, from the rest of her strike team. Shields flared ahead and she dropped, sliding feet and tail first, as particle beams flashed over her head.

Enemy squad. Wearing combat harnesses.

Carbine down.

Grenade launcher up.

Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump-thump.

Six 25mm, high-explosive fragmentation rounds flew down range, half the magazine in her M82. She had one more remaining.

The rounds exploded with a roar, shredding the bulkheads nearly as much as the Kelrathi.

They were nearing the bridge now, and most of the Hegemony frigate’s crew had figured out what was going on. Enough, at least, that most of the enemies they encountered at this point were wearing battle harnesses. Not that it was helping them much.

Grenade launcher down. Carbine up.

More particle lances flashed around her as she bolted past a small side passageway, spraying a burst of plasma as she went and flagging the targets on the shared battlenet. A shotgun barked several times behind her followed by the rapid staccato of explosive buckshot and the targets went dark with kill markers.

Mel was already moving to the next corner.

More explosions and weapons fire could be heard from elsewhere in the ship. The other strike team, taking a different path. They were almost to the bridge, now, and would link up soon.

She stacked up on the intersection of two main passageways. Left was where the other strike team would be coming from. Forward lead to other parts of the ship. Right was their objective.

Mel began stepping around, but the glimpse of a reflection and a target alert on the battlenet sent her dropping to the deck just in time to avoid the heavy particle lance that punched straight through the bulkhead and the space previously occupied by her head, spraying molten flecks of metal across the passageway. It punched through the far bulkhead and stopped somewhere a compartment or two beyond.

Rolling with her momentum into the open passageway, she popped into a crouch and hissed at the Heavy Legionnaire. Surging forward, she dodged to the left as the legionnaire fired again, straining muscles, nannites, and armor servos to the max. The anti-material beam glanced across her armor and threw her into the bulkhead. It left a scorched and melted scar across her chestplate, but most of the shot missed and her armor held.

A torrent of plasma fire was returned down the passageway, streaming so fast it looked like a continuous beam, punctuated by the thundering booms of a vehicle-mounted-railgun-turned-anti-material-rifle. The Heavy Legionnaire’s shields initially held under the withering bombardment, but nothing could stand that barrage for long. The Kelrathi exploded into a spray of superheated gore the moment its shields failed, and the final railgun round passed through the spreading cloud of misted blood to cut two more unshielded Kelrathi in half.

The source of the barrage thumped down the passageway at the head of the second strike team, a Combat Engineering ExtraVehicular Armature. The tri-barreled plasma cannon mounted on its left shoulder spun back up as it swung around and fired bursts at more Kelrathi following them up the corridor.

The CEEVA was the combat engineer version of the Terran Stellar Marines’ Heavy Combat Armor (Powered). While it wasn’t as heavily armed as the HCAP, it was heavily armed enough, and just as much of a walking tank. The initial Hegemony boarding teams had not expected a Terran merchant crew to have one.

The manipulator arms that replaced weapons systems on the CEEVA were also very effective at melee combat, and the squad of legionnaires who burst through an armored door right in front of the CEEVA discovered this to their misfortune as the human engineer “gave them the clamps.”

A sensor burst from the other strike team pinged several more targets arriving from behind them and passageway opposite to her. Mel shoved herself off the bulkhead, her peripheral awareness noting Dog catching up to her again. The Remnant drone ran up the bulkhead to her right on all fours, clawed across the overhead above her, and back down to her left to evade particle beams desperately tracking after him. The heavy energy cannons mounted to his back firing the whole time, alternating with a thumping whine and crackle.

Sprinting ahead, Mel fired another burst of plasma into two more legionnaires, their shields flaring. Dodging around them, she kicked herself up the bulkhead while reloading, her tail flicking behind her for balance. She unloaded another magazine into them on full auto while their shots scraped her left pauldron and elbow.

They were left as demonstrations of what happens when several high-energy plasma rounds strike unarmored flesh, while she was left with little more than scorch marks on her armor.

Slapping a fresh magazine into her carbine, she turned to see a second Heavy Legionnaire coming around the last corner.

A millisecond glance at the battlenet showed both her heavy supports preoccupied with another wave of reinforcements.

The Heavy Legionnaire raised his Heavy Lance, more than enough concentrated firepower to punch through her armor.

His shields would shrug off her carbine fire with ease. He was too close for the grenade launcher.

He was also too close to the bulkhead.

He had failed to adjust his shield filters for close combat.

With a snarl, Mel popped open her faceplate and charged ahead.

Tossing her carbine ahead of her, she dropped to the deck again as the Legionnaire’s heavy lance flashed over her head. Her 153-centimeter-tall frame easily sliding between the three-meter-tall Kelrathi’s legs after her carbine.

Snagging the Legionnaire’s right leg as she passed, she brought herself to a sudden stop and snapped her jaws down on his unarmored calf. Tiny muscles flexed in precision movement, and a measured dose of venom squeezed from glands in her jaw and snout, through all four of her fangs, and into the Kelrathi’s leg.

The Legionnaire briefly shouted in pain, lifting his leg to kick Mel off as she let go and rolled away, before suddenly twitching and falling the deck with a crash to spasm out his last breaths.

Spitting blue blood out of her mouth, Mel bounced to her feet and turned to find another shielded Legionnaire, with her carbine still on the deck.

This Legionnaire was also standing too close to the corner he had just stepped around.

Muscles flexed. Another measured dose was mixed with saliva in her mouth. Calculated arc paths flashed across her vision, and with a timed intake of breath, she hocked and spat.

The loogie flew across the space between them, splashing across his face as the Legionnaire brought his weapon to bear. He blinked, then dropped his lance, clutching at his eyes as he screamed in agony.

Mel snagged her carbine off the deck as she resealed her faceplate and stepped through the Legionnaire’s shield bubble. Barely past his waist, she had to reach up to point her carbine at his chin.

She fired.

The pulse struck the soft flesh under his jaw. The self-created magnetic fields that contained the packet of high-energy plasma disintegrated, turning it into a jet of super-heated gas. Blood, flesh, bones, and brains flashed to steam and the Kelrathi’s head exploded, coating the bulkhead and overhead in gore.

Mel stepped past the headless corpse as it tumbled to the deck and ducked under the swing of another Kelrathi. Seeing several more around the corner, between her and the door to her objective, she jumped back. Snagging a grenade from the dump bag on her belt, she chucked it around the corner. It skipped off the deck and the far bulkhead, and Mel mentally triggered its detonator as soon as it disappeared out of sight.

The shockwave still shoved her back, along with the Kelrathi ahead of her. His shields had flickered hard, however, and a burst of plasma rounds finished him off.

After lobbing a second grenade for good measure, Mel charged around the corner. Hopping over mangled deckplates newly decorated with pieces of debris and shattered corpses, Mel switched to her grenade launcher. Seeing both strike teams converging behind her, she emptied the remaining six rounds from her magazine into the door. It shattered under the barrage, the fragments blowing inward to shred flesh and consoles beyond.

Mel swapped back to her carbine without reloading and charged in. She ducked under a brief barrage of plasma and particle fire, and spotted her target. Dodging a startled bridge crewman still disoriented by the exploding door, Mel drew an uplink device from her belt and jammed it into an open data port as she slid into one of the consoles.

She dropped to her back. Two shots from her carbine took out the crewman’s right knee and what used to be his kidneys before he could turn and shoot her with his sidearm. The rest of the strike teams stormed in, neutralizing most of the bridge crew before Sapphire announced on the battlenet, “I’m in!

The strike teams stopped firing as the surviving Kelrathi dropped their weapons, outnumbered and out-gunned. Mel stood up as a translucent, blue hologram of a woman wearing a ship suit materialized on the bridge. She stepped over to a Kelrathi who was glaring at all of them with so much self-superior condescension that he could only be the captain of the Hegemony frigate. “It’s over, Commander. I have full control of your ship. Tell your crew to surrender so nobody else will have to die today.”

“And why should I cooperate or even trust anything you say?” The Kelrathi sneered in contempt at the AI before him.

“Because we could have killed you and your entire crew by now,” the AI replied with a wave of her hand. “I don’t understand the full intricacies of how your gravity systems work, yet, but the controls are easy enough to understand, and it would be nothing to ramp up the gravity to one hundred Gees everywhere my crew isn’t standing.” She folded her arms behind her back. “I’m offering you and your crew the chance to live. You will be prisoners, but we have rules for the treatment of Prisoners of War. If you have studied us at all, you should remember those terms we set in our initial armistice agreement.”

The Commander glared at the AI for a long moment, before glancing at the surviving members of his crew, and the two strike teams with weapons at the ready. “Very well,” he said, waving a long arm through the air. When he spoke next, his voice echoed through the ship. “This is First Commander Jannell. The bridge has fallen. The Terrans have control of the ship. The Reliquay has been destroyed. We… have surrendered.”

“Thank you, Commander,” Sapphire said. “Your crew will be treated well.” She turned and began issuing orders to her crew.

Mel set her carbine on the console before her as the rush of battle faded. As she allowed her rage to drain away, she looked at the main bridge display. It still showed the shattered remnants of the Kelrathi cruiser Reliquay. It had been broken by three shots from Sapphire’s spinal railgun. The new FTL rounds, fitted with a mini, disposable grav drive, had disabled the cruiser before it even knew it had been fired upon.

In their arrogance, they hadn’t even bothered to raise their shields to capture a “defenseless” Terran merchant.

Four torpedoes with the new, two-gigaton gravity implosion warheads had turned the cruiser into nothing more than an expanding cloud of gas and melted slag.

It was overkill, really, and half their total loadout of the new warheads. One torpedo, or a couple more railgun shots would have ensured the cruiser stayed dead, but they couldn’t afford any chance that sensor data on the Terrans’ new weapons systems would survive to be recovered by the Hegemony.

Mel took a shuddering breath, and quickly told her implants to stifle any external reaction. Clarity of mind was returning as her nannites cleared the cocktail of battle hormones from her system. The memories of the recent past flashed through her mind.

She had just killed… so many.

Mel closed her eyes, putting a block on the exact count. She didn’t delete the data from her implants, she refused to forget anything, but she didn’t want to think about it right now. The Kelrathi Hegemony of Harmonious Unity had done so many terrible things, caused so much harm to the galaxy, to her, and she had met few Kelrathi who regretted any of what their civilization had done or stood for, but she knew they were not all monsters. Many were just as ignorant as she had been, as her people had been. And they were all still living, breathing people.

Rage helped in battle, helped when death needed to happen, but she did not want it to define her. She did not want to become them.

“The last of the Kelrathi have been secured in the empty hangar bay,” Captain Romero said over the battlenet. “But I don’t trust them to not cause trouble, on their ship or ours. The nearest Terran station that can handle our prize is Arrabo Station. We’ll put in there for repairs, shore leave, and possibly a recommissioning.” The Chimp chuckled at an old joke. “Do another sweep to check for any potential surprises, then we’ll transfer all but the prize crew back to Sapphire.”

“The frigate’s engines could get us both there faster than my grav drive can handle right now,” Sapphire chimed in, “But I’m not comfortable learning how to operate them remotely while in tandem flight. We’ll undock and travel at my pace, in formation. We should be there in about a week.”

Mel looked up at the main display again, staring past it. Arrabo Station. Back where her adventure with Sapphire began, nearly two years ago. It was only two years, but so much had happened, so much had changed, she had changed… It felt like a lifetime ago.

And now she was finally going back. Sooner than she had expected. Longer than she had hoped.

Mel closed her eyes. “Mama,” she whispered. “I’m coming home.”
 
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