Starshock: Part Seven

Starshock: Part 7

By Roger Bennett

Illustration by Robert Sankner

If you havent read parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 yet click here for Pt1, here for Pt2, here for Pt3, here for Pt4, here for Pt5, or here for Pt6.

* * * * * * * * * * * "Steady..." whispered Sanderson, "she's almost clear....just about...NOW! Ahead one-quarter. All batteries, open fire!"

Glamdring's devastating attack caught the A'zani by complete surprise. A massive explosion rocked her aft sections as her thrusters were hit. A'zani lost her forward momentum, and began to drift.

The powerful beams lanced into A'zani's hull, ripping through her Engineering section. Explosions rang through the ship as her power conduits overloaded and shorted out.

On A'zani's Command deck, P'nal lost helm control. A moment later, the main targeting computer exploded, and T'kul was thrown violently into the bulkhead.

Chaos reigned. The Command Deck was filled with thick smoke, and here and there instruments spat fire and sparks as they overloaded and shorted out.

Another massive explosion rocked the A'zani , causing the ship to lurch to one side. O'tar was thrown off his feet, and R'gal seized his opportunity. He leapt upon O'tar, wrestling his weapon from him. R'gal rose and attempted to flee, but O'tar grabbed at his foot as he turned, and R'gal stumbled. He went down, furoiusly fighting with O'tar for the weapon.

There was a shot, and O'tar screamed in pain. R'gal shoved him away, and as O'tar fell, R'gal disappeared through the hatch.

‘I'm free, and armed,' he thought. ‘If I can make it to the auxiliary weapons station, I may yet have vengeance.'

"There's over a thousand ships out there, Admiral!"

"...cruisers, destroyers, dreadnaughts, I see three, no four carriers, make that carrier groups..."

"No novaships. Where the hell are the novaships?"

Stancil shook his head. They were in enemy space, outnumbered by at least eight to one, and the opposing fleet was breaking into an attack configuration. Stancil's own carriers had launched their fighters, and even now, they were streaking to intercept the massive wave of T'zirian fighters launched from their carriers.

The blades were moving up to protect his flagship. He had not ordered them to do so, but he appreciated the thoughtfulness of their Captains.

Too bad it wouldn't help.

"Commander T'kul," said N'tal into his viewscreen, "Do you know me?"

"Yes, my Prince," stammered T'kul. "You are N'tal...what are you doing on board a Confederation Destroyer?"

"This is a joint mission to intercept and detain the A'zani, T'kul. Your Captain is a renegade. Where is he?"

"We know. I had just arrested him when you attacked. He shot O'tar, and he's somewhere in the lower decks. We're searching for him now."

"This ship is docking with you. I and some humans are coming aboard. You will pass the word to cooperate with us."

"Yes, my prince. T'kul out."

Glamdring locked onto the crippled A'zani. As soon as the seals were in place, N'tal, Ryan, Sanderson, and several others, each heavily armed, boarded. They were met by crewmen from the A'zani, and split up, searching for R'gal.

"We must go this way!" said N'tal to Ryan and Sanderson. "R'gal will be trying to complete his vengeance. He's probably headed for the auxiliary weapons controls. If he gets there, he can still destroy this system!"

"They're not attacking, Admiral!" yelled Stancil's aide.

It was true. The T'zirian fleet had established a line, and were holding position. Stancil didn't quite understand what was happening, but he wouldn't be the first one to fire.

"Order all ships to hold position."

"Sir?" asked his aide, incredulously.

"Do it!" roared Stancil. "Damn it, man, are you deaf? Are you blind?"

"Incoming message from the T'zirian Admiral," called the communications officer.

"On the viewscreen."

"Admiral Stancil," said S'lan. "I am ordering my forces to hold position. I note that you are doing the same."

"Affirmative. Why are we doing this?"

"I have had a direct communication from the Emperor. He has ordered me not to fore on you unless you fire on us first."

"Given the size of your fleet, I'd say that would be a suicidal gesture." said Stancil with a grimace.

"Indeed. And one thing more: your ship Glamdring has located and disabled the A'zani. However, all is not over: her Captain has escaped arrest, and is missing. Until he is captured, there is still a danger."

"You must excuse me, Admiral, I have to send some messages," said Stancil. "Our leadership must be informed of these developments."

S'lan nodded.

"Let us hope they see the wisdom of ordering you to withdraw," he said.

"Let's hope," agreed Stancil. "But I wouldn't bet on it."

R'gal entered the hatch at the Weapons Control Station. The guard, startled, hastily saluted him. R'gal, realizing that the man had not been informed of the situation, returned the salute.

"Guard the door," he ordered. "The humans have ambushed and disabled the ship. We have been boarded. I must prevent our technology from falling into their hands...I will set the destruct sequence, and then we will abandon her."

The guard swallowed hard, then nodded. He was quite young, and obviously terrified. R'gal smiled at him reassuringly.

"Don't worry, son," he said. "Just keep them off by back for a few minutes."

He went to the control station. The targeting data was still in the computer on the Command Deck. R'gal initiated a transfer of the data to the weapons station, but the transfer would take a few minutes.

There were voices in the corridor. R'gal crouched down and hit behind the bank of capacators that fed the nova weapon. He waited, weapon ready.

A man in a Confederation uniform entered the hatch, and the guard fired. The shot went wide, and the man rolled to the side, and then up on one knee. He quickly aimed his weapon and fired.

The shot hit the guard directy in the center of the chest, and he went down. He fired a final shot as he fell, and the Confederation man was hit in the shoulder and also fell.

R'gal sprang from his hiding place and ccrossed quickly to the control station. The data was almost finished transferring. He began to punch in the security override code that he needed to fire the weapon by himself.

"That's enough, R'gal," said a familiar voice behind him. R'gal turned to find N'tal holding a weapon on him.

"My brother!" spat R'gal. "so nice of you to join me!"

"It's over, R'gal."

"'s not. I must destroy this system first."

"No. I'll kill you first," said N'tal determinedly, with an edge in his voice.

The Confederation man moaned, and slowly got to his feet. He joined N'tal, and R'gal started."

"Interesting friends you have here, brother. Confederation uniform, but a half-breed like you. He even looks like you!"

"It's G'val."

"So. The missing half-breed whelp, found at last. You should have stayed lost," he said to Ryan.

Out of the corner of his eye, R'gal saw the guard move. He realized that he had only been stunned. The guard shook his head, looked around, and then stealthily retrieved his weapon.

The guard took careful aim at N'tal. He was just about to fire when a shot rang out in the corridor. The guard slumped once more.

N'tal and Ryan were momentarily distracted. It was all R'gal needed. He ducked away, seizing his weapon. He gained cover, and aimed at N'tal.

"Drop your weapons!" he ordered.

N'tal and Ryan had no choice but to comply. R'gal laughed.

"You see?" he chortled at N'tal, "You see? It's not over." He raised his voice.

"You, out in the hall! I have hostages. Throw down your weapons and get in here!"

A sidearm was thrown in through the open hatch. It was followed by Sanderson.

"Join us." demanded R'gal. "You can all die together."

"Let the others go. I think I'm the one you want."

There was something about that voice. R'gal looked carefully at Sanderson.

‘The face..' he thought. ‘Something familiar about it....I've seen this one before..a long time ago..'

"I know you." he said. Sanderson nodded.

"You've grown a bit since I last saw you. I doubt I could hold you now, like I did then."

The realization set in, and R'gal screamed in rage. He leveled his weapon and fired wildly. The shot missed.

N'tal and Ryan dove for the deck. They retrieved their weapons and scurried for cover. R'gal noticed their movement and fired in their direction, missing widely.

The three men continued to fire at R'gal. He screamed with rage, his mind completely gone. He only wanted to hurt, to kill. He fired again, the shot grazing Sanderson's scalp, burning him. Sanderson fell, writhing in pain.

N'tal and Ryan fired several shots, forcing R'gal out into the open. R'gal returned their fire, and gave ground, at last standing beside the control station. He fired wildly, with no apparent target.

Ryan took careful aim, and shot him in the chest.

R'gal's scream broke into a choked cry. He felt the life draining from him, and as he fell, he grabbed for the control console. He used it to steady himself, as Ryan and N'tal came up from behind him.

"So.." he said, and then strangled out a cough. "You think it ended."

With a massive effort, R'gal turned to face them. His vision was blurry, and the weakness was growing massively worse. He knew he had but seconds to live.

"I die.." he choked out. "but I claim vengeance as my price."

"No!" shouted N'tal, leaping towards him.

It was too late. R'gal's dying hand came down upon the control station, activating the firing sequence. R'gal fell, dead.

The sound of the capacitors charging was deafening in the little room. N'tal frantically punched in a security code on the panel. It didn't work.

"Damn!" he shouted. "I can't stop it!"

"Is there any other way to stop it?" shouted Ryan.

"Yes!" shouted N'tal. "If we can create a dead short across these two capacitor banks, they will overload and short out. The weapon won't have enought power to discharge!"

"What do we have to do that with? Is there something here?"

"No..there's no time!" shouted N'tal. "I'll short them out with my body. Tell my...our parents that I loved them."

"No!" shouted Ryan. "No! You can't do this! N'tal!"

"I must!" shouted N'tal. "We're out of time! The cycle is almost complete!"

He started for the capacitors. A determined look was on his face.

"No!" screamed Ryan.

N'tal was suddenly shoved and sent sprawling. Sanderson looked at Ryan.

"I started this all thirty years ago," he shouted. "I'll finish it."

He rapidly crossed to the capacitors. The whine of the generators had increased to a scream. Sanderson took a deep breath, and seized the top of a capacitor with either hand.

He screamed as the power surged through him. His body burned with agony as the waves of raw energy swept round his form.

His last thought was of the crime he had committed. As life left him, he saw the shattered look on the woman's face. And then all was darkness.

The capacitors shorted out and overloaded. A series of electrical overloads sent sparks flying, and one of the capacitors exploded.

The whine of the generators began to abate, the scream of their pitch gradually declining into a low rumble, before fading altogether. N'tal looked at Ryan.

"It's over," he said.

There is nothing quite so poignant as a funeral in space, in that vast gulf between the stars where darkness eternally reigns. There, in that darkness, a man can come to know the depths of his grief, for there pain is enhanced by the cold, distant stars, and the emptiness echoes the depths of sorrow. Nowhere else is a loss so keenly felt as it is there, in that lonely place.

It was for that reason that the two ships now maintained their stations between systems. Their crews, stiff in their dress uniforms, stood at parade rest in the hangar bay of the larger ship, silently honoring the dead which lay in state.

Each of those assembled there harbored his own thoughts of the deceased, some respectful, others not. Yet each of them, in some way, found it hard to believe the chain of events that had led them here, and which had brought them to the purpose of this solemn gathering. It seemed almost impossible that it had all started two scant weeks ago, and almost half a galaxy away.

Ryan and N'tal stood together, solemn. They waited silently for the last of the guests to arrive.

T'kul walked stiffly up to them and saluted. They both returned the salute.

"They have arrived," He reported. "They are boarding as we speak."

The hatchway opened, and Ryan and N'tal called the crews to attention. Boson A'sak of the A'zani blew a note of welcome on his carved pipe.

Emperor K'val N'rthan and his empress entered the hangar bay, followed by Confederation President Hollon. The Confederation Council Members and various Ministers and Courtiers of the T'zirian Empire were next, and Admirals S'lan and Stancil brought up the rear.

N'tal and Ryan bowed formally. The emperor laid a hand on each of his son's shoulders, and smiled.

"You have both done well," he said. "We must talk later. But now let us honor the dead."

The Emperor and Empress, and all of the other dignitaries were seated. The funeral began.

The T'zirian clergyman spoke first, calling for the Creator of All to show mercy to the spirits of the deceased. When he had finished, the human cleric spoke, praying for each of the departed.

There were various eulogies for each of the men, and then at last, the flags were folded, and presented to the next of kin. The Emperor received the flag from R'gal's casket, and President Hollon the flag from Sanderson's, as Sanderson had no family.

All present rose, and then after a joint benediction, the caskets were reverently carried to the end of the hangar bay and placed into the airlocks. The sad strains of an ancient human dirge were played by a crewman.

R'gal was released first, his casket sliding from the airlock and falling towards the sun. A moment later, Sanderson's followed.

There was a last call to attention and a final salute, and then it was over.

The Emperor turned to Hollon.

"President Hollon, the Empire grieves for those who lost their lives and homes because of my son's actions. I stand ready to offer compensation for all losses. Please, let us start friends."

"The Confederation and Council accepts your apology, your Highness," said Hollon. "The events of the past two weeks were a tragedy. Let us just be thankful that a larger one, another war between our peoples, has been averted."

Hollon offered the Emperor his hand. The Emperor accepted, and the two shook.

"There is one thing more," the Emperor said. "There can no longer be any mistrust between our peoples. We have come to the brink of war because of mistrust, hatred, and ignorance. I must take steps to insure that this does not happen again."

He gestured to a courtier, who brought up a small box. He handed the box to Hollon.

"This is my gift to your people," said the Emperor. "In this box, there are data storage units which are compatible with your technology. These storage units include all of the total technology the T'zir possess...including all our weapons technology. Use them, if you wish, to make yourselves as strong we are, and to enrich your lives. Build novaships, if you wish. Be our our friends."

"I...I don't know what to say," said Hollon. "Thank you seems...understated."

"It will do," the Emperor smiled.

"Why do you do this?" asked Hollon.

"Our first encounters with your people taught us that humans lusted for the things we possess that they did not have. If we give them freely to you, then you need not lust for them. Therefore, you need not take them from us...we give them to you. As friends."

"Now, if you don't mind," said the Emperor, " I would like to speak with my sons."

"Of course, " said Hollon. The Emperor went off to find his sons.

He found them together, and with their mother. He noted with pleasure that G'val/Ryan had immediately accepted her, and she sat close to the son she had missed for years.

"My sons," he said. "Well done. Very well done, indeed."

"I'm sorry I had to kill R'gal," said Ryan. "There was no other choice."

"I know. Do not worry over what had to be done, my son. You have done the right thing."

"And now what will you do?" asked the empress. "Will you come back with us?"

Ryan nodded.

"At least for now," he said. "I always wondered about my family...I expected them to be on the human side, though. I didn't expect this."

"I think that you will find," said the Emperor, "that we are very much the same, we T'zir and the humans. We have the same feelings and emotions. We get angry, we hate...and we love," he added, caressing the empress' shoulders. "We are more alike than unlike."

"How true," murmered the empress.

"But I am pleased that you are coming home, G'val," he continued. "when you were lost before I had even seen you, I felt as if my heart was torn from me. Now, I am restored."

"And I, too," said Ryan "For so many years I have been...empty. That's behind me now"

They went on then, to talk of other things. Ryan, now G'val, was presented to those present as Prince G'val. The gathering went deep into the late hours.

At length, Ryan found himself standing beside an observation port. He looked out upon the infinate darkness, his mind reflecting over his life, and the past few days.

They had come through darkness and fire, and back into the light. The possibility of war was behind them, and ahead of them lay the future.

For Ryan, it was an uncertain future, but a new beginning. He had found his family, but would he ever truly feel as one of them? He didn't know, but something told him that it would be so.

It was quite late when N'tal found his brother standing there, staring out into space.

"G'val," he said. "Is something bothering you?"

"When I first contacted Father, he said that there were things that I did not know which made it imperative that there not be war between the Confederation and the Empire. A while ago, I was talking with Admiral Stancil and Admiral S'lan, and I discovered that the T'zir possess a far more powerful fleet than we, well , the Confederation ever suspected."

He looked at N'tal directly.

"Tell me, N'tal," he said, "what did our father mean?"

"Well, I guess it won't hurt to tell you," said N'tal. "You'll be told all this when we get back home anyway."

"That fleet your Admiral Stancil saw was really only a small part of our fleet. We actually have over fourty thousand warships in service. And we need them all."

"For what"

"You see, G'val, we are already at war."

The End... For Now

Copyright by Roger Bennett 1996

Illustration by Robert Sankner, Copyright 1997

(Roger is already hard at work on other stories set in the Starshock universe. I hope you join me in eagerly awaiting these further adventures--- Dan L. Hollifield)

R.R. Bennett was the Founder,Senior Editor and a contributing writer to Dragon's Lair Webzine. He likes Science Fiction and Fantasy, particularly when it has a humorous twist to it. He enjoys the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Robert Asprin, and Andre Norton, among with many others. He is also a BIG fan of the Science Fiction Television Series BABYLON 5.

R.R. Bennett resides in Bel Air, Maryland, with his wife and children.

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