The Consortium ship drew nearer, its missiles and energy batteries subjecting the Horseman to a merciless barrage.
The hammering force of the enemy's assault reverberated through every section of the ship, fissuring decks and bulkheads. Explosive power surges erupted from bridge consoles, multiple shockwaves sweeping Mingana off her feet, sending her head first to the deck.
She blacked out. When she came to seconds later, Povich was kneeling over her, his face fraught with concern. “Captain!”
Mingana glanced about with disoriented eyes. The bridge was a smoke-clogged shambles. Crew members not wounded or dead labored intensively to maintain besieged systems. A few lay curled on the deck, traumatized and oblivious to the screaming chaos around them.
Povich helped Mingana to her feet.
The captain dabbed at a patch of wetness above her left brow, and came away with blood on her fingers.
“Batteries are down. We did all we could,” said Povich.
Mingana shook her head despairingly. “But it wasn't enough. We failed.”
The raucous suddenly ceased and an alien image popped up on one of the few working interface screens on the bridge. The alien's face was broad and jowly with a snout nose, wide mouth and dark, sunken pits for eyes.
The species was different, but Mingana could almost smell the stench of Consortium arrogance wafting through the screen.
“Captain Mingana. Are you alive?” The alien inquired, sounding almost bored.
Mingana stepped a bit unsteadily to the interface. “I'm alive. You must be the captain of the ship I'm trying to annihilate.”
“I am,” replied the alien.
“Good. Do me a favor. Bring your ship to a complete stop so I can ram it.”
The Consortium captain tilted his head a gesture that would have been taken as curiosity in a human. “Amazing and commendable is your ability to spout levity in your final seconds. If your treachery did not result in the destruction of a Consortium ship, with all hands lost, I would be content to simply capture your vessel and enslave you and your crew.”
“Then why are you talking to me?” Mingana asked.
“I wish to inquire about the Duke.”
“The duke is dead.” Mingana raised her chin. “By my hand. In fact I'm responsible for attacking your ships. It was me alone. No one else. My crew was not aware of my Resistance affiliation. Kill me. Spare my crew.”
After a lengthy pause, the Consortium captain spoke. “Trading a single life for the hundreds snuffed out in your devious attack? The death of Duke Rassellin alone is worth three times that many lives. Not a fair balance, Captain. Not a fair balance at all. Goodbye, Captain.”
The alien's image faded away.
Mingana shut her eyes, whispered a farewell to her family and waited.
“Captain, another ship is inbound,” a sensor specialist announced breathily.
Mingana's eyes snapped open.
Povich rushed to a working tactical interface and his face lit up. “It's a Calaar war cruiser!”
A second Calaar cruiser flashed out of jump space. Both ships opened fire on the Consortium vessel. Missiles, interspersed with pulsing slashes of point range fusion beams, drenched the enemy ship in a throbbing star hot cauldron.
The Consortium ship launched a spread of missiles and attempted to withdraw. A small percentage of Consortium missiles weaved through the Calaar ships' defensive screen to strike home. But they did little damage. The Consortium ship's objective was to escape. But the Calaar cruisers could not allow that...not with an orbiting city in jeopardy. Even if the Calaar leaders had been warned of the very imminent danger to their lives and evacuated, the Consortium captain could still strike the city out of cruel spite.
Huge explosions chipped away at the Consortium ship's hull. The ship veered off course, its shield reduced to impotence beneath a punishing barrage. Less than a minute later, the ship stuttered to a full stop. The Calaar cruisers ceased fire and took up flanking positions beside their crippled quarry.
Mingana witnessed the confrontation on an interface screen and plopped down in her chair, her body sagging with relief.
Povich stood next to his captain, clearly fatigued. “That was a very timely intervention.”
Mingana nodded. “Very timely.”
The Consortium ship surrendered. Mingana had to commend the Calaar for their restraint in not finishing it off. She sure as hell would have. That's why the Calaar were more civilized. Humanity had so much to learn from them.
“I told you no happy farewells,” Mingana said to Povich.
Her Second broke out in weary laughter.
Justine Mingana stood on the balcony of the tallest tower in Kitroor, a city located on a Calaar colony world called Ir't. Even as she reveled in the beauty and grandeur of this alien vista, her mind lingered billions of light years away, on a far less important world. Earth remained a constant and vivid picture in her thoughts. She missed her family so much, her heart ached. When she looked up, her longing for home intensified. A thousand Calaar warships of all sizes and classes filled the aquamarine sky. They were part of a grand fleet tasked with retaking Earth.
She spotted the Horseman directly above, resplendent in all of its refurbished glory. Eight months ago, after being rescued by those Calaar ships, she held very little hope that the Horseman could be salvaged for more than a few spare parts. Her hosts on I'rt had exposed their human guests to the gracious, compassionate kindness typical of the Calaar. They had also kept Mingana informed of developments on Earth. She was saddened to hear that Admiral Casey was killed in a U.N. airstrike, and that Ot^^^ had been captured and executed a week later, putting a nail in the Resistance's coffin. She was consoled that the Consortium mass destruction weapon carried on her ship was in Calaar hands. The weapon was a singularity-generating device. A planet-bombardment missile would have been its delivery system. Had the device been deployed, in concert with those launched by the two Consortium ships, a vast orbital city would have been snared in an artificial black hole and reduced to the size of a pinhead. Mingana shuddered at the sheer scale of a such a catastrophe.
Her eyes narrowed to fierce slits. Soon the Consortium occupiers and their human lackeys would be receiving their just desserts. The Calaar did not promise that the fight for Earth be easy. But they did promise victory.
Mingana turned to see Commander Povich standing at the balcony entrance, accompanied by Lt. Winter and Lt. Commander Kochran. The three regarded their captain with optimistic gazes.
“Your ship and crew awaits,” said Povich with humorous flourish. “Shall we take back our planet?”
Mingana presented a wolfish grin. “By all means, Commander.”