Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't read up to Spinward Fringe Broadcast 9: Warpath!
It's that time again, when a few previews land on this page. This prologue takes place in a different part of the Iron Head Nebula as the Triton and Revenge are encountering Freeground Alpha.
The Nafalli are coming...
More previews are coming soon, so sit tight and enjoy!
Order of Eden fighters swarmed between the ships of the Iduoi Tribe convoy, hatefully blasting the most heavily armed ships before Woone’s young eyes. An itch had been burning on the top of her dark furred snout, but she was a nafalli warrior, and her hands were steady on the turret controls.
“Shoot anything coming for your turret first, we need to keep our gunners safe,” came the order over the comm stick she had pinned into the fur next to her ear. The order came from her father, the Captain, and she thought it was cowardly. Woone was sure she should fire at the enemy ships that were causing the most damage to the least well defended, but she followed orders regardless.
A trio of Order of Eden ships rose up from behind the Elloo, one of their oldest ships. The round edged, long vessel was already losing power to most of its critical systems, she feared for the thousands of nafalli aboard. The enemy trio took a sweeping turn, and she opened fire with her quad cannon, scoring hits by the time they were facing her.
The shields protecting her emplacement started taking hits, flashing blinding light across the front of her turret. Gritting her teeth, she concentrated on what her visor was showing, three dots with the speed, distance, shield strengths, and operational status of each fighter in simple codes. “These pilots are so stupid,” she grunted as she set her four cannons to fire at maximum power.
Her fingers were going numb from holding the triggers down for so long. These would be the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth kills she made in less than fifteen minutes. The energy shield protecting her turret was slowly depleting, the trio were trying to take her out, and she hoped that the bolts of contained super-hot plasma her quad cannons were spewing would take them out first. Their assault was so brazen, Woone was positive they would be slag before she was.
The middle fighter’s shields dropped suddenly, and Woone aimed for the sweet spot, right above and behind the narrow fighter’s canopy there was a thin armour panel, and behind that was some kind of fuel cell. The middle fighter exploded violently, sending the one to its port side spinning sideways.
Small shards and chunks of the exploding fighter collided with her shield like droplets of red hot metal rain as she aimed for the other fighter, tearing into it at such a high, intense rate that the barrels of her turrets were turning red. Woone activated the coolant gas to slow the heating down, making sure she didn’t release so much that it would damage her turret. The white plume of the coolant entering the heated space around the barrels filled her view, so she completely relied on her tactical visor, ignoring the obstructed view outside.
The second fighter was about to break off when its shields failed, and she ripped into the side of the ship with cannon fire. The third was regaining control, turning and flying away, and she blasted the ship from behind. “Your shields were set to cover your nose, weren’t they?” she growled to her enemy, even though they couldn’t hear her. “No running, you little bug.”
The shields covering the aft side of the enemy fighter winked out, and the pilot didn’t get a chance to spin their ship before several high speed plasma bolts tore through the thin armour. “Burn!” she shouted as the ship’s interior let a jet of atmosphere out then exploded as one of her shots struck a fuel capsule.
That explosion was followed by a much larger blast that lit up the dark corner of the nebula they tried to hide in for several seconds. Large chunks of hardened hull plating drifted across her view, some of what remained of the Order Carrier that attacked their peaceful convoy. She wished she could spit on the massive shreds of hull plating, or make trophies of a few of the crewmembers who still clung to hope inside sealed compartments, like her ancestors did. They knew how to make examples of their enemies.
There were a few fighters in range, all flying away. Woone squeezed a few rounds off at the closest ones for good measure, striking sporadically and fairly ineffectively. “Better run,” she muttered as the last of them made it out of her range. “Prepare for an emergency short distance jump,” came the announcement through her communicator. It wasn’t her father, but her uncle Rikin speaking.
The lights in the rear section of the Elloo lit back up, and their main thrusters fired despite the terrible damage the large ship sustained. To her relief, a wormhole split the space in front of it and the ship slid inside, accelerating out of sight within seconds. Woone took a moment to secure her post so the weapon couldn’t go off by mistake, and to scratch the itch on top of her nose. The relief she felt at seeing the Elloo get away safely was so intense she felt she could cry. While most of her immediate family was on the Rahgha, one of their only fighting ships, she had over a hundred cousins on the Elloo, and there were children aboard because it had a heavily armoured core. Their entire tribe was set on breeding back to full numbers, and she was left out because there were so few males left to couple with, not that she liked her choices over the past year. That meant she could concentrate on being a warrior, a passion of hers since she learned to track at a very early age, and that she could visit the Elloo whenever she had time and be surrounded by baby nafalli without having to take care of any of them after leaving. Truly, the best of both worlds.
Their ship shuddered as it crossed into a wormhole, something that had never happened before. The alarm went up and the flexible panels of her containment suit closed. “Emergency, reactor three has failed,” announced Rikin. “We are not going to be able to jump again. The convoy will be going dark as soon as we arrive at our destination. If there is anyone near Primary Junction Twenty-Eight, please deactivate the power flow to the rest of the ship.”
That wasn’t good. It meant that enough of their convoy was so damaged that they had to go dark in order to hide from sensors. Dead dark, no systems running, scary dark. All so they could hide and make essential repairs. With a start, Woone realized that she was close to Junction Twenty-Eight, it was only a few strides behind her turret door.
With care, she turned her chair around and opened the hatch. With a whoosh the atmosphere in her pod escaped into the vacuum in the hallway. “Command Centre, I’m responding to your request,” she said. “The hall behind my turret is depressurized.”
“Woone? Thank goodness you’re still alive. That section was heavily damaged,” her aunt said. She was the Tribe matron, and the woman Woone admired more than any fictional or real person in the universe. “Is there anyone else nearby? Any sign of other survivors?”
Woone looked down the hallway in both directions. The strange shifting white and blue light of starlight reflecting off of particles in the nebula, amplified by the wall of their wormhole was the only illumination in the broad hallway. The light was coming in through a broad rip in the hull that ended three paces away from her turret pod. It was so still and quiet, it made Woone wish she’d never opened her pod. People were lost somewhere behind. People had died. It was the reality of war, but she couldn’t help but wonder who she’d never see again.
Woone shook her head solemnly as she concluded that there was only torn deck plating and the remains of a half-slagged reactor to her right, and an empty hallway to her left. “I don’t see anyone, there aren’t even any remains.”
“We can confirm that a few got into a secure room before that area was damaged, but if what you’re seeing is right, most of them were pulled out into space,” Loashi said. “Can you see the Junction Panel? Is it still intact?”
Woone saw it right away. Several paces down the undamaged end of the hallway there was a black panel with red stripes across it. “I can get to it.” The ship emerged from the wormhole, and she pushed off from the hatch of her turret pod.
“We have to shut down now,” Loashi said. “It’s going to get very quiet and dark down there, Woone, so stay calm until we can get to you. In the meantime, you can use your personal scanner to see if there are any other crewmembers stuck back there. Do you think you could do that?”
“Pfft! Don’t worry about me, my suit didn’t take any damage, so I can look for crewmates for days.”
“Okay, be careful,” Rikin said.
“Is my father all right?” Woone asked, dreading the answer.
“We’ll discuss that when you’re safe,” Loashi said.
“No, is he safe?” Woone asked, making contact with the Junction Panel and opening it.
“Tell me, I need to know.”
“He was killed when the port shields failed,” Loashi said. “I’m sorry.”
Woone found the control that would cut off most of the ship’s power. “Ready to go dark?”
“He didn’t suffer,” Loashi said. The light flickering around her dimmed. They were out of the wormhole.
“Are we ready?”
“Yes, Woone, go ahead.”
Woone pushed the mechanical button in and it sprung back with a click. She knew the entire ship lost power then, they would be difficult to detect using long range scanners. She turned back towards the rip in the hull, it was broad and long, and she hadn’t noticed it thanks to the position of her turret. What did that damage was so close to killing her too, she found herself wondering if her family had been cursed. First, she’d failed to find a good mate, then the Order of Eden raided their world and killed most of the humans there along with her mother, and now her father was gone.
Through the hull breach she watched three of their lesser armed ships go dark, the lights in their portholes flickering then going out. It suited her. Let everyone feel as alone and lost as she did. They would work in the dark, repairing whatever it was that kept them from trying to escape the Iron Head Nebula.
A small green light appeared on her visor, indicating that there was someone alive down the corridor, just past the breach. Woone took a deep breath. “Father and Mother are both watching now,” she said, feeling a tear roll down her furred cheek. “I will show you how I can save people.”