Assassin's Bane by GraecusRomanus January 27, 2021

Chapter 4

“Kevon, Kevin, load up the Positron Blasters,” Ethan said. “Catherine and Catherina, I want you to track missiles and incoming and outgoing enemy ships, after you identify the mayday ship. Did you get the coordinates from the mayday?”

“Yep, locked onto the coordinates, arriving four kilometers away from the last received position.” Catherine was furiously typing, as well as Catherina. Navigator jobs were insanely hard, requiring two people working simultaneously and nonstop. “That should give us some leeway and not right into the thick of it all.”

“Alright, Kevon, Kevin, aim and fire, don’t waste core energy,” Ethan said, knowing how much Kevin liked rapid fire. The power core energy would deplete and having enough energy for a single blast could mean the difference between life and death in a battle.

“Yes, Ethan,” came both replies.

“Charlie, get ready for wormhole travel,” Ethan said, his HUD giving him a notification.

“Roger,” Charlie replied. “Passing through in three…two…one.”

There was a deep rumble as they passed through the wormhole… and into a warzone.

“I need the sector map updated,” said Ethan, referring to the hologram in front of him that showed everything going on in the sector they were in.

 Ships appeared, moving around. Ethan could see that they were targeting a lone ship, an EC-2, that was running away, weaving drunkenly around massive asteroids. He saw a blue, blinking dot rapidly approaching their Vulture.

“Evasive maneuvers, ninety right, incoming missile,” shouted Ethan.

The ship lurched to the right, and the missile went past, turning around for them again.

“Take out the missile,” Ethan said, recognizing the missile type. “Don’t let it connect, it’s a Hammer Shark.”

Hammer Shark missiles were incredibly dangerous, and the light armor of the Vulture would take about two of those before it succumbed.

Kevon aimed at the missile, and around a hundred meters before it connected, it exploded as a perfectly aimed neutron blast blew it apart.

Ethan was proud. Not many could blast out a missile.

“Catherine, where’d the missile come from?” Ethan asked. He knew it came from behind, but there wasn’t a ship.

“Ethan, it’s masked, I can’t get a read on it,” Catherina replied, typing furiously.

Ethan started to rub his chin, but realized he had his helmet on.

“Alright, I’m taking the Cobra,” said Ethan, his resolve firm.

“Ethan, we’re approaching the asteroids,” said Charlie. “Speed is at 65 meters per second, we’ll be there in thirty seconds. Turbo it?”

“No, keep at the same speed,” said Ethan. “Can we get communication out?”

Catherine typed into her screen and shook her head. “Communications are blocked, nothing in and nothing out of the sector. Based on its frequency, its five kilometers from here, very powerful to block communication all the way here.”

Ethan surmised that it had been deployed after the girl had signaled. Good for the girl, but now, without communication, they couldn’t call for help outside the sector.

And there was nothing but lots of rocks and enemy ships inside the sector.

“Forget the communications,” Ethan said. “Charlie, head towards the enemy ships and don’t run into anything. Kevon and Kevin take out those ships, you three know the drill. Catherine, Catherina, update the targets for Kevon and Kevin.”

“Incoming missile, forty degrees left and twenty up, evasive maneuvers, Charlie,” Ethan shouted, seeing the blinking dot again. Charlie responded immediately, and the guys took it out. Another near miss. “Thank you, girls. I’m going to take out that stealth ship.”

“Careful, Ethan,” said Charlie, evading a blast from a pirate that had disengaged. “Don’t get killed.”

“Never, man,” said Ethan. He got up and ran out the sliding doors, into the vehicle bed, formerly the cargo bed, where two A-grade Cobras were waiting.

Cobras were mini vessels, combat related, just the size of one person, featuring two Techron blasters (mediocre in power, by the way), basic speed of up to 100 meters every second, and an incredible maneuverability that, with its smalland slim figure and speed, would be incredibly hard to hit, or even lock on. But if it did get hit, it would take two hits from a standard Positron blaster before the shield succumbed.

So, if you don’t understand yet, taking out the Cobra was a dangerous deal. But of course, times like these necessitated it.

Ethan jumped into one, guiding it to the exit point at the back of the ship. “Open the bed!”

“Opening bed,” came Catherine’s reply.

The bed opened, and the vacuum sucked the Cobra out. He immediately activated the stabilizers and turned the thrusters to maximum using a pedal next to his right heel, kicking up from zero to a hundred in two seconds.

The shielded cameras linked to his HUD, calibrating, and linking it completely so that moving his head moved the cameras, giving him a complete view, as though he was seeing it from his own eyes.

The perks of advancements, am I right?

Another flash of light caught Ethan’s attention, and he turned the Cobra towards it, seeing that it was another Hammer Shark.

He knew that Catherine had already seen it, but he didn’t have the time to see if it struck or not before he was faced with a nightmare.

Off to the side was a massive vessel five times the size of the Vulture Mark III. It looked like a pitchfork, but a closer look from the top could tell someone that it looked more like a trident, which was where the Trident Light Fighter Frigate got its name.

Armed with two Typhon Blasters (as powerful as they sound) and two Wasp Missiles (as painful as they sound), energy shields on top of a strong hull, the Trident was a mammoth threat in a skirmish.  

This thing could take out a single ship with two hits of the Typhon, but this one was outfitted with another weapons slot where a Hammer Shark took it up.

Ethan took a second to see it and decided that there was no way his Techron blasters were going to make it through the Trident’s recharging energy shields.

Ethan turned his ship around, zipping towards the pirates. He heard the rumble as the stationary frigate’s engines turned on. If that made it to the dogfight, then all bets were off.

He set a signal to the Trident. “There’s a Trident Light Fighter Frigate, one point three kilometers from the asteroid cluster. I’m coming over there, get ready for Cobra redocking.”

“Roger,” came the reply.

A few seconds later, he was inside. While they couldn’t see his face, it was covered in sweat.

“What’s the status?” Ethan asked.

“Eighty-percent hull integrity remaining, most damage on right wing, but nothing serious,” said Catherine, not looking at Ethan. Ethan said a quiet thanks to God for the lack of damage; pirates and drones of this caliber were a severe threat. “We took down three pirates and seven rogues. Still seven pirates and nine rogues remaining. The Assault Drones are a serious pain though; shields and everything.”

Charlie continued to pilot the ship, weaving in and around ships, evading shots and missiles. The twin brothers continued blasting the pirates and rogue drones, dealing a good deal of damage. Both were oblivious to the conversation happening.

“What’s the status of the other ship?” Ethan asked, looking at the model again.

“Not fighting, but the main thruster is still working, probably the atmo regulator as well, since the ship is still running,” said Catherina.

Ethan took a few seconds to collect all the data.

If the Trident weren’t active, we could have taken down the pirates and rogues, albeit in a longer amount of time, Ethan thought. But now, continuing engagement is suicide.  

“Alright,” said Ethan, snapping out of his musings. “We’re going to do a rescue. Get contact to the other ship.”

Catherine got him the link. Catherina wanted to continue the fight, but she knew better than to question Ethan; listening to him had kept them alive more than once.  

“Come in, this is Ethan Sanders, come in EC-2.”

“What?”

Ethan bit back a retort at her brisk demeanor.

“Listen to me carefully,” Ethan paused, but the girl said nothing. “Does your wormhole and warping mechanisms work?”

“Yes, they do.”

Thank you, God, Ethan said quietly. “Okay, when I tell you too, I need you to open your docking bay; I’m going to board you and get out of this sector using the warping mechanism.”

A pause.

“I don’t know how to open the docking bay,” the voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

Ethan froze, his mind repeating the sentence over and over, as though the words couldn’t possibly go together in one statement.

 “I’m sorry, I don’t think I heard you right?”

“I DON’T KNOW HOW TO OPEN THE DOCKING BAY,” she cried.

Ethan took a deep, shuddering breath, the product of an immense amount of suppressed rage.

“I’m going to have a very long talk with you if we survive this!” shouted Ethan, losing all composure. Catherina jumped at the sudden noise but continued what she was doing. “What kind of dim-witted, bottom-dweller are you to not know how to open a simple DOCKING BAY? Pray tell, then what in the name of Grayson’s seventh toe were you doing in blasted GRAY SPACE without knowing how to perform the most BASIC of functions?”

The girl didn’t reply.

“Fine, I’m going to board your ship either way. So, pull back to ten meters a second,” said Ethan, fuming. And partly as an afterthought (and partly because he didn’t trust the girl), he added, “And don’t shoot me.”

He shut off the intercom, still very much livid.

“Alright, we probably have another minute before the Trident gets within range to use the Typhons and Wasps, and when it does, everything’s going to go downhill. So, the moment I send the location, if those things work, I want you to follow. If I don’t send it, then use energy signals. Catherine, Catherina, you get that?”

“Loud and clear,” they replied. “What’s the plan, though.?”

He quickly ran through the plan, giving instructions on what he wanted them to do, and got into the Cobra.

Ethan stabilized the Cobra again after he got out, and, upon his request, the girl’s ship was highlighted. He activated the turbo, shooting the Cobra forward in a straight line at 342 meters per second. It took around less than a fifth of a minute to reach the girl’s ship.

Now the easy part, he thought to himself.

He aimed at the door leading to the docking bay and shot one blast. He wanted to hit the side so that the door hung open, but he misjudged how strong the door was, and the angle. The already weak door fell off, and he was forced to dodged the flying mass of steel.

Ethan aimed the ship towards the open docking bay and blasted the turbo, turning it sideways incredibly fast. At the last second, he turned it a complete 180 degrees, and turned off the engine at the same time.

The momentum carried it inside.

The metal screeched as the Cobra was firmly lodged inside the docking bay.  

All of this was extremely dangerous and fragile. If he hit anything other than the docking bay, the ship would explode. If he couldn’t lodge the Cobra inside, then everything would fail. If he got hit, then he was effectively done for.

But this wouldn’t hold a candle to what he was about to do now.

“Cover me,” Ethan shouted. The Vulture came into view, the underside covering the open docking bay.

He had mere seconds to do this. He quickly opened the Cobra, and jumped out, getting into the docking bay, and running to the door.

He slammed the button to open the door into the sealed chamber, waiting painfully for it to open sufficiently: an entire two seconds, the longest two seconds in his entire life.

The moment he could fit his body inside, he rolled under and punched another button inside the chamber, slamming the door down.

What could have gone wrong? Well, the Vulture could have gotten hit multiple times sitting like that. The Vulture could have crashed into the EC. Vacuum could have sucked Ethan out, where he most surely would have died. The ship could have exploded. Or the chamber door could have refused to open.

But he didn’t have time to dwell on that. He ran into the central command of the EC-2 to find a girl in a yellow grav suit (disgusting color, by the way), her helmet, also yellow, covering her face.

“What took you so long?” she demanded in a sassy, brattish way. She put her hands on her hips. “Take me to Savan System, Sector O6, Techoguilian Orbital, Planet Techoguil.”

That sass did it for Ethan.

He walked forward and slammed his knuckles into the side of her helmet, cracking the visor and knocking the girl inside unconscious. She dropped to the ground, and Ethan picked her up and strapped her into a seat.

That’s one issue taken care of, he thought to himself. It still hurts though.

Ethan shook his hand as his knuckle throbbed painfully. But he didn’t have time to dwell on that.

He sat into the navigator’s chair and locked the location to the one she had said.

Savan system was a wormhole away, and they were currently in a wormhole sector. Sector O6 was a simple warp from the wormhole.

He couldn’t send the coordinates to the Vulture, as the communications were completely down from a blast that the ship had taken after he made it inside, so he told Catherina and Catherina both to take the energy signals.

 It was a difficult, delicate, and complex process, having one person take energy measures and degrees of the ship after it warped or went through a wormhole and continuously relay it and other changes to the other person to analyze and figure out where they went until after the energy had dissipated.

I’m not going to bore you with anymore technical details, just know it’s incredibly hard. Now, back to the events at hand.

Man, my knuckles hurt bad!  Ethan thought to himself.

He jumped into the pilot’s seat, linked his HUD, and got ready to get out of there. He took another hit to the side, but he quickly activated the thrusters after aligning the ship to the blinking dot on his HUD. The ship grew closer to the wormhole point.

“Wormhole in three… two, wait who am I talking to?”

The EC shuddered as they warped.

He quickly readjusted the ship for the sector warp point and activated the warping mechanism, which, thankfully, still worked. In a beautiful ray of light, the ship entered, and exited out into O6 in a flurry of dispelled energy.

Then, there were multiple sirens and alerts going off as the warping ended. Atmo breach, failed turbo systems, power core heavily damaged, maneuver thruster’s half gone, and hull integrity at an all-time twenty-two percent.

He also saw the planet, Techoguil, an earth-like planet, but redder in color, a looming presence, like that of a mountain before a fawn.  

“Ethan, come in,” the intercom blared with Catherine’s voice. “What’s your status?”

Ethan relayed everything to her. He saw the planet getting closer and realized what was happening.

“The planet’s gravity is pulling me in,” Ethan said, trying to activate the reverse thrusters. But that too was broken. “I can’t pull back.”

“Eth—”

She was cut off as another voice came through.

“EC-2, this is Techoguil Airspace Command Center. You are in a restricted zone. Please pull out of the airspace.”

“Command Center, this is EC-2. That’s a negative. I am leaking atmo, and the reverse thrusters are compromised. The planet is pulling me in, and I have no control. I will probably enter the atmosphere in thirty seconds.”

A long pause that was dragged out by the planet face getting larger and larger in front of him.

“EC-2, please pull out of the airspace.”

“I said I can’t!” Ethan shouted, his eyes widening as the outside became glazed in a red hue as they entered the atmosphere.

“Ethan, what is happening?” Catherine’s voice.

The ship gave a shudder.

“I’m free-falling, dang it,” Ethan said through gritted teeth, forcing his fear and panic down. The ship’s insides was getting hotter, and his grav suit’s temperature stabilizer barely negated it. “The heat shields are down.”

“EC-2, I said pull up. PULL UP, for Tarak’s sake.”

“Command Center, I don’t know who is speaking or if they have even half a brain, but for the umpteenth time, I have NO CONTROL. I repeat I have no control. Nothing is working; I’m in free fall. Most likely fatal contact within 45 seconds. And that’s if I don’t get fried inside.”

What does this guy not get? I’m pretty sure this isn’t protocol. Is he messing with me?

“EC-2, you are in a royal planet border. You must pull out or face charges.”

He was about to tell him that he could go and jettison himself with his charges between his ears when the words ‘royal planet’ hit him like a Jackhammer missile, and cold realization dawned on him.  

Ethan slowly looked over at the girl strapped to the seat.

The one with the cracked helmet.

Which was cracked where he’d punched it and knocked her unconscious.

He noticed the royal symbol on the arm of her suit.

So, he’d punched the Techoguil princess.

Oh mercy. That’s why she wanted to go to Techoguil.

Ethan was shocked out of the revelation when a hull plating ripped off with a loud screech, and the ship started to spiral.

The ground was coming in way too fast for Ethan’s liking.

There was only one thing left to do, and it was a Hail Mary by a long shot.

Hehe, get it? Hail Mary… long shot…okay, Ethan was disappointed in his lack of humor sense.

He was also pretty sure that thinking of puns in such a time was the first sign of stress, panic, PTSD, or mania.

Ethan stopped that train of thought and unstrapped himself. He furiously latched himself onto the girl’s seat, grabbing on and hugging it as best as he could as the ship continued to shudder and groan and creak. He pulled the eject latch next to the seat, praying that it still worked. Suddenly they were both encased in metal, the panel closing off at the top and barely missing Ethan’s posterior on the way up.

 A sudden boom told Ethan that they’d been ejected; a rising feeling in his stomach told him the bottom thrusters designed to slow the fall didn’t activate.

They were in free fall. Again.

One might think our hero was sitting there, confidant and brave and regretless in the face of death.

No, he was screaming his head off, using phrases he’d picked up from his time in space.

God, this is a terrible way to go, Ethan thought to himself in between shouts of panic.

From the Command Center, Captain Gordon, who’d suddenly taken over due to certain circumstances, was watching the ejection, and the pod going down. The team had already analyzed the trajectory and sent a rescue team to the location. The king had also been notified, as was protocol.

He glared at the new guy who was standing there like he’d seen a ghost. “When I come back, you have a lot of explaining to do. And you’d better hope they’re alive.”  

Those inside the Vulture had lost communication with the EC when it entered the planet’s atmosphere, and they were starting to panic. Stationed just out of reach of the Techoguil’s gravitational pull, they couldn’t see what was happening. They could only hope.

Inside the pod, Ethan was saying a final prayer for his soul. He felt a sharp halt as the parachute opened at the last second. Another jolt sent him knocking around the small pod. He could feel the pod rolling around, and him rolling with it, crashing into this and that, the reinforced metal plating crumbling inwards as the outside collided bone-jarringly with the ground.

He tried his best to restrict movement, but the impacts were too hard and too fast.

When the pod finally stopped, Ethan could feel a lot of pain from multiple parts of his body that weren’t in their ideal positions. He tried to stand up, but his leg gave away, jolting him again. He hit his head on a protrusion on the way down.

His vision swam and everything became hazy as a fresh wave of pain washed through him.

Ethan was barely cognizant of a panel being torn open, and the princess being lifted out.

The last thing he remembered before passing out was the girl’s yellow suit… and hating it.