The errand had seemed straightforward enough: demoralize the Angels by means of a complete massacre. Even with the drunken Gallente as accompaniment, Sunrise had gone in figuring that her aptly-named Abaddon would make short work of the pirates, with Dersen’s Megathron picking off the rest. That self-assurance seemed like a distant memory now, as wave after wave of Angels got under their guns, shot their drones, and overwhelmed their repairers.
Dersen had just warped out, out of ammunition and unable to handle the concentrated fire from ships that his rail guns couldn’t hit. That was most of them. Why did he not bring a blaster ship, for once? His large drones remained behind, not particularly helping. He was supposed to be the combat pilot! Sunrise checked her own supply of boosters: She, too, was nearly out. She had long since stopped auto-firing her pulse lasers at the assault frigates and cruisers pounding her armor. All they did was tax her dwindling reserve of capacitor, and she needed that for the armor repairer. She did not have the option of leaving, as three of the frigates were scrambling her warp drives. Her crew loaded the last booster charges. This was it. She stopped the repairer for now, at half armor, and released her last, beleaguered flight of Warrior drones. With luck, they would live long enough to kill the frigates scrambling her ship. It was an odd feeling, to be in command of one of the most feared ships in the Empire, and yet to feel essentially helpless. Dersen warped back.
“I warped to the wrong station. I still don’t have any ammo. And, uh, I don’t have any cap boosters.”
In her capsule, Sunrise seethed. She wanted to tell him exactly what he could do with his useless battleship, in graphic detail, but her self-control held. She aligned to station and replied in her analytical voice. “Stay here. You can at least draw some of their fire.” No, that was more of a scold. Dersen didn’t reply, but he didn’t leave, either. She pulsed her armor repairer, and the nanites briefly muted the pounding from the enemy autocannons. Her ship had thirty percent armor, but there were now three assault frigates, and two scrambling her. The Warriors were working slowly, but they were working. The only question was whether her ship would survive long enough. The drubbing from the enemy ships became deeper. The low armor alarm went off, again. She didn’t have the capacitor to run the repairer yet. At least he had attracted some of the pirates. His ship floated nearby, its drone bay empty and its guns silent, taking the abuse. Dersen himself was uncharacteristically quiet. Even he could figure out that his would not be a good time to try chatting her up.
A series of loud booms torqued the ship. The hull alarm sounded. Sunrise took a quick inventory: one of the three assault frigates was going down to her four valiant drones, but she was rationing capacitor the way her ancestors rationed water. The frigate disintegrated, its debris colliding with her hull shortly afterward. There was a fire in the bridge, and a breach in the hold, and more alarms sounded as the enemy ammunition shredded her ship’s structure. Fifty percent hull. She tasted salt. It was sweat. The fire had reached the firewall between her capsule and the rest of the ship, and the amniotic fluid was heating up. An explosion near the reactor let a deafening, inhuman howl out of the metal cage surrounding it. Crew relayed that there was still power enough. And crew enough, she thought. She had prided herself on being a responsible captain who could attract veterans. Another frigate down. She commanded the three remaining drones to attack the last scramming frigate. A couple of quick pulses of the armor repairer had kept her from falling below forty percent hull, but now she had to wait again. Thirty percent hull. Twenty-five percent hull. Human screams mingled with the cries of buckling metal through the medium of her uncomfortably warm capsule. But the last scramming frigate was in hull, too, and dying quickly. She ordered her crew to prepare for warp.
“Dersen, get out.”
His ship aligned to station, but he didn’t warp. “Ladies first,” he answered. “My ship isn’t on fire.”
Twenty percent hull. Sunrise was no longer sure if the salt was sweat, or tears. Another explosion reverberated through her failing ship, but this one was remote. She issued the command to warp, and with a chthonic groan of protest the Abaddon left the pirates, and her drones, behind. Aura reported eighteen percent hull remaining.
“I didn’t know you liked to live dangerously,” Dersen said, admiringly.
“I don’t. I really don’t.” Something in the tone of her voice cut off the conversation. The damage and loss report scrolled by for what seemed like an eternity, as what remained of the crew scrambled to hold the ship together even in the relative peace of the warp bubble. The temperature in her pod began to drop.
A thunderclap announced the collapse of the warp bubble, followed shortly after by loud shrieks from the ship as the station’s tractor beam captured it. Trailing smoke, she told the station to dock her in repair. It was then that she herself shuddered. It was then that she realized that her game face had held, just as it collapsed into a flood of tears.
She would make the attempt again, but not with Dersen. He had helped her before, as he was fond of reminding her, but this time the stakes were clearly too high. She would need someone more reliable.