Just about everyone’s heard of the First Battle of Epsilon Reticuli. The greatest Alliance defeat of The War. Over three hundred warships lost in a few minutes. First use of gravitic jammers. History says a lot of things about that battle. Most of it isn’t true. You see some of the survivors came to the Wolfenheim Project, looking for work. That’s why I know the truth of what happened out there. And why it left such deep scars.
The Peloran construction yard seemed to grow larger as the shuttle approached, main engines firing at near maximum power. The blue glow of fusion-powered engines swept space in their path, decelerating them to match the station’s slow orbit around Alpha Centauri A. Explosions of white-hot light betrayed the existence of dust particles and larger debris in their path, while objects caught in the edges of the four fusion torches burned orange or red. Other colors flared into existence for a second from time to time, only to fade back to black again as whatever strange elements existed in that particular speck of dust burned away. The engine wash created the closest thing to true vacuum he would probably ever see so near a working shipyard.
Wolfenheim floated above the yard, over six hundred meters of girders and modular sections that made up a modern Class One Colonization Ship barely visible in the pale sunslight of the Alpha Centauri trinary star system. She was everything a new colony needed, starting with the hibernation systems that could keep ten thousand people asleep during the trip. Her basic modular structure housed sections with hundreds of different uses in mind, from habitation modules to scientific labs, and just about anything else one could think of. The ship was designed for a single trip to the stars and had a single mission. She would detach all of the modular sections to form the core of the new colony upon arrival in orbit, and leave her skeleton in orbit to form the base of the new colony’s orbital space station and yard complex.
Malcolm’s eyes strayed to the ships whose mission it was to make certain Wolfenheim finished the trip alive, no matter what hazards they met along the way. He scowled as his eyes found only eight ships. There should be nine. He sighed and scanned the eight he did have, happy to at least have been able to find them. He counted five frigates, the oldest over a hundred years old. The youngest was a true whippersnapper of a mere eighty-three years, having been retired only twenty years before The War began. The two destroyers hadn’t fired a shot in anger in over fifty years, but at least they’d been able to make the trip to New Earth under their own power.
Malcolm’s gaze stopped on Normandy, the jewel of his squadron. He’d found her in Harmony, playing the part of a floating museum, complete with retired fighters in her twin hangar bays. They’d been so ancient nobody had bothered to refit them for The War, and even Normandy’s outer armor had been reclaimed for use by “real” warships years before. That last bit had actually been good news, since it made it easier to access her hyperdrives and refit them for the long trip to New Earth. And the Peloran had done wonders for her, just like they had for every other ship he brought to them.
The yards restored her to her original appearance, four hundred meters of first-generation gravtech beauty that gleamed under the work lights of the platforms still arrayed around her. The rest of the squadron looked just as beautiful to his eyes, long fins and curving armor reminding Malcolm of a time when starships were works of art, not simply one more cog in a giant war machine that no one would miss when their time came to die.
“That’s your ship?” John asked from the other seat in the shuttle’s cockpit.
“Sorta, though I think her captain would argue the point,” Malcolm answered with a smile as his Blackhawk drifted towards Normandy on the edge of his field of vision. He pointed at the fighter escorting them back up to the yards while he entertained John on the shuttle. “She’s mine.”
“She’s mine, actually” Dawn said from behind them in a proud voice.
Malcolm and John shared amused looks before John looked back out into space where the two examples of pre-gravtech design floated. ”They’re both beautiful.”
“Thank you,” Dawn said in pleasure.
The shuttle’s engines flared brighter for a moment, and Malcolm felt them shed the last of their speed relative to the shipyard. They came to a stop, drifting next to the eight warships and one colonization ship that would soon be the only home that mattered to him. Thrusters came to life and the shuttle moved beneath Normandy’s bow. He glanced at Dawn and she smiled. Then two long hatches in the carrier’s belly opened wide to reveal a hangar bay, and the thrusters fired again. They drifted beneath the hangar and held station until four tractor beams locked onto them. The thrusters shut down, and Malcolm relaxed as Normandy tucked them inside her bay with precision only cybernetic intelligences could match. The tractor beams dropped them on the deck just as the outer doors shut, and Malcolm felt the clang through the seat of his pants.
“Nicely done,” Malcolm whispered and unbuckled his five-point harness.
“Nothing to it,” Dawn answered as the hatch screwed open behind them.
He walked into the shuttle’s rear compartment, eyes scanning back and forth on instinct. Passenger seats had filled the shuttle from side to side and fore to aft the day before. Now Malcolm’s last shipment that Michael Callahan had acquired on such short notice filled the compartment from one end to the other. Almost everything on board was illegal in the Alpha Centauri A star system, but Malcolm wasn’t concerned about that. As far as he could tell, if something made him giggle when he thought about using it, somebody had already made it illegal in Alpha Centauri. And using what was in these crates gave him a serious case of the giggles when he thought of the probable response any enemy would have.
The shuttle’s rear ramp clanged against the deck, and several of Dawn’s sisters walked on board. They quickly went to work, lifting the heavy crates with ease, and began unloading the shuttle.
Dawn looked around, waving a hand to catch the attention of one of the cybers before she could reach a crate. “Kara, could you take Pastor Park to his quarters?”
“Of course,” the cyber answered and walked over to the preacher. “Would you follow me?”
John turned to Malcolm with a calm smile. “Malcolm?”
Malcolm returned the smile, knowing exactly what John was asking for. This was his ship after all. Well, his and Captain Wyatt’s. And maybe a few hundred crewers. Malcolm felt a smile take over as he realized just how many people had a claim to the old bucket of bolts. Not that he would ever call her that when her mind could hear. But John was most certainly the newest visitor to the ship, and it made sense that he would want to ask the one person he knew before taking a step into her. “Make yourself at home, John.”
The preacher nodded and turned back to Kara with a broad smile. “Lead and I shall follow,” he said in a magnanimous tone.
Kara gave her head an amused shake and turned to lead the man away, exactly as he’d asked. As they approached the ramp, Malcolm heard her ask, “Are you really fluent in a dozen languages?
“Fluent is such a strong word,” John corrected with a shake of his head. “But I can muddle my way through the streets of every major nation on Earth and beyond.”
Kara turned her head and studied John intently for a moment. “Why did you learn so many languages? You could have just used a translating program.” She sounded truly curious, and Malcolm wondered how much she already knew. He’d caught Dawn asking him questions she knew the answer to more than once. Although to be fair, that was usually when he should have been thinking along those lines already.
“I could have,” John answered, and Malcolm heard contentment in the voice that had never been there when he was young. “But you can never truly understand the depths of a culture if you don’t understand their language.”
Kara gave him a measuring look. “And why did you want to understand them?”
“I didn’t know. I was just curious at first,” John said with a shrug. Then he smiled at her. “Though that education did give me access to many interesting job opportunities.”
“Is that was this is?” Kara asked with a wave at his suit. “A job opportunity?”
John chuckled and shook his head at her. “Oh no. This was just an escape at first. Joining the clergy has been a handy escape for men and women who need to get away from it all for thousands of years, you know.”
Kara frowned at him. “At first?”
John smiled in return. “At first. But they can be rather strict when it comes to people like me. And they demanded that I learn some very old languages. Latin. Greek. Aramaic. It’s not like the original Bible was written in the King James English, you know.”
“So what happened?” Kara asked.
John shrugged as she led him down the ramp. “Why, once I understood the language that wrote those earliest versions of the Bible, I began to understand what it all meant.”
“I’ll be lucky if I get her back by the time we hit Sunnydale,” Dawn whispered as the two disappeared.
Malcolm chuckled. “I hope she knows what she’s getting into.”
“She does.” Dawn turned to smile at him. “She asked me to introduce them.”
“Really?” Malcolm raised an eyebrow at her, wondering what she and Kara had planned for the older man.
Dawn’s look turned serious. “You’d be surprised how many people claim they believe something so they can gain followers, not because they actually believe.”
Malcolm frowned and turned to gaze out the open end of the shuttle where they’d disappeared. “John’s not one of them,” he declared with a firm shake of the head.
“Is that your instincts talking?” Dawn asked in a very serious tone. “Or your friendship?”
That froze him. Malcolm blinked as he considered the question, wondering if he was letting his friendship blind him to some long con. No. That didn’t feel right. Malcolm frowned at the feeling and looked back at Dawn. “John believes what he says he believes,” Malcolm said, paying careful attention for the mental warning that usually told him he was being stupid about something. Nothing. “And it feels right to say that,” he added with a smile made of more relief than he’d expected. “The John I know was never that kind of con artist, and he doesn’t feel like one now.”
Dawn nodded slowly as she processed his words, before finally bestowing a smile on him. “Good. That makes me feel better. But I hope you don’t mind if we grill him a bit. He really does have quite a checkered past.”
Malcolm snorted and smiled back at her. “Are you implying something?”
“Oh, no,” she answered, her face a paragon of innocence, and waved a hand towards the opening in the rear of the shuttle. “Would you like to go? The Captain wants us on the bridge.”
“Oh!” Malcolm exclaimed and stepped towards the exit. “One should never keep her waiting,” he added and flowed around another of Dawn’s sisters lifting another crate into the air.
“I thought you might say that,” Dawn whispered with a knowing smile as they walked down the ramp and finally set foot on Normandy’s deck.
They moved through the organized chaos of crates filling the shuttlebay and made it to the open lift door in seconds. The doors shut behind them, and the lift began to move towards the warship’s central core. Malcolm found a wall and leaned against it, eyes examining Dawn. She cocked her head at him and he smiled, wondering again why she was here. He managed to suppress the impulse to ask her this time, and her lips twisted in amusement. Then the lift began to slow and he straightened his suit and tie.
The lift doors slid open and Malcolm stepped out into the guardroom. The two guards on duty examined him and then Dawn, probably scanning to make certain they weren’t mad assassins coming to wipe out Normandy’s command staff. The guards nodded after a moment, presumably deciding they were safe, and opened the hatch leading to the bridge.
He stepped through to see nearly a dozen men and women hard at work. Cybers in grey and blue coveralls worked on opened panels, their legs sticking out from under numerous stations. The grey-garbed Peloran yard dogs still worked hard to complete the final refits Normandy needed so badly. They weren’t actual dogs of course. He’d never met a dog that wanted to be an engineer. Most of their brains just didn’t focus that way.
Normandy’s blue uniform coveralls and the bridge crew’s pre-War style of white service uniforms came from American navy surplus stores, and the uniforms had proven as rugged and dependable as promised. He knew every surplus storeowner within twenty lightyears of New Earth on a first-name basis thanks to his long shopping trips, and most within fifty lightyears at least recognized him when he walked in the door. Excluding those on Earth. He had no fundamental problem with using Charles’ family to acquire the colony equipment without them knowing about their contribution. But flaunting it by buying stuff in their backyard was a bit too flagrant an abuse for his tender peace of mind. And one Malcolm McDonnell needed far too much beauty sleep to be keeping himself awake at night with worries of Hurst Family assassins dancing through his halls.
Malcolm turned his mind away from that unappealing nightmare and nodded at each crewmember as they acknowledged his presence in their domain with a smile, a shrug, or a few less flattering gestures. “Watch it,” he whispered through the side of his mouth at Walter Thompson. “You might get stuck like that.”
The tactical officer snorted under his breath, but returned to work the moment Captain Wyatt cleared her throat.
Peloran ships boasted very small crews, leaving the operations of their warships to the cybernetic brain. The ship’s captain gave orders and the ship executed them. It was a surprisingly simple command chain, and Malcolm had been sorely tempted to follow that example. But he’d never served in the military, and Captain Wyatt was an American captain. She wanted a full crew for her ships, whatever the Peloran told her about reduced requirements due to automation. And she’d maybe mentioned a time or two that they weren’t going to be scaring up any replacements for injured crewmembers where they were going.
So Malcolm had elected to maintain standard American crew compliments. On the one hand, by recruiting experienced naval personnel he also recruited their experience and knowledge. And on the other hand, most of the ten thousand colonists asleep inside Wolfenheim truly were civilians, with very little if any military experience. Recruiting the better part of two thousand retired naval and marine personnel to crew the warships would almost certainly prove invaluable in the very likely event that things got just a little bit exciting once they reached the other side of The Gateway.
Malcolm studied the naval veteran he’d trusted with command of Normandy. The brunette was far older and more experienced than her twenty-something looks suggested. Her naval dossier held a long series of “performs above and beyond the call of duty” characterizations from her superiors. That they ended with “showed profound cowardice and misjudgment of the tactical situation” meant very little to him. The reports Malcolm wasn’t supposed to know about showed him a classic example of shooting the messenger. The woman who had extricated her ship from the Battle of Epsilon Reticuli, and saved both Serenity and New Earth, turned away from the recalcitrant tactical officer and aimed a steady gaze to him.
“Malcolm,” she intoned, following one of the few actual orders he’d given her.
“Olivia,” he answered after a quick breath. He was too much a civilian to confuse the issue of command with fake titles he hadn’t earned. And if he was just another civilian, given names were an appropriate form of address. “You wanted me?” he asked, raising an eyebrow with the slightly inappropriate question.
Olivia rolled her eyes, but amusement colored the haunted look they normally held. “Hardly.”
“Bugger.” He made a show of a regretful sigh that brought a slight smile to her lips. Very slight. Anyone with less sensitive eyes probably would have missed it altogether. “So why ask me up here then?”
Olivia grimaced and waved a hand towards the display next to her.
Malcolm followed her eyes and scanned the ships anchored in the Peloran yard. Most were modern or near-modern warships undergoing repairs or refits. British, American, German, and even French ships dotted the girders running through the yard. They were the last of a long line of warships that had been flowing through the yard for months, and Malcolm wondered if they would make it to Sunnydale in time to rendezvous with the fleet. But one ship declared her century of age with every first-generation gravtech curve and fin. Hastings was the last, the oldest, and the most troublesome of his ships.
“I wanted to tell you in person,” Olivia said, her voice betraying worry. “Well. Wanted isn’t really the right word.”
Malcolm sighed. He hated to throw the word around, but he was starting to wonder if the ship had actually been cursed when she was still in her original building slip. She’d certainly suffered from enough “unfortunate events” during her time in service, and even her brief time under his ownership had been “eventful,” as one of his people had said. “What happened this time?”
Olivia opened her mouth to answer, but an alarmed shout cut her off, and they turned towards the sensor display in the middle of the bridge. “Multiple hyperspace footprints on the Earth–New Earth Run!” Anton Lee reported. Malcolm suppressed a groan as he saw the flashes on the display. “Designating Bogey One. Thirty-one lightseconds out, point zero one cee, and accelerating to cross The Red Line now.”
The display zoomed in to show a tight formation of eight ships emanating hyperspace radiation in all directions. He couldn’t see what they were at first, but the displays confirmed it was a military formation. The three-dimensional pattern allowed them to support each other on the off chance that someone might be waiting for them.
Then the displays cleared and revealed eight new Austin-class destroyers. Even he knew those ships. The Austins had a truly unique forward wedge, designed to look like a double-headed hammer. Each of those eight hammerheads carried twice the firepower of any single ship in his squadron, and even if limited to broadside weapons his ships would be hard-pressed to defeat them. He licked his lips and knew deep down in his bones that those ships were not just stopping by on their way to Sunnydale. The fleet needed to leave now.
“Olivia?” he asked, his voice revealing more nerves than he really meant it to.
“Got it,” she answered and pointed out a pair of chairs at an empty station at the rear of the bridge. He and Dawn took her suggestion with haste and Olivia turned to the man operating the sensor display. “Plot us a course for Sunnydale, Lieutenant Lee,” she ordered.
“Yes, Ma’am,” the man answered and his fingers flew across the controls. The display flickered with hundreds of possible courses as he cleared out swaths of them that took the squadron too close to the incoming ships. The possible courses narrowed down to a single option, pointing at an angle away from the incoming Austins. “I have a course laid in for The Red Line in…twenty minutes,” he reported, turning to face her. “We can be on the New Earth–Sunnydale Run in…forty-three minutes from your order, Ma’am.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Olivia said, sat down in her command chair, and turned to look at the empty air next to her. The holographic form of Normandy’s mind flickered into existence and they shared a long gaze before Olivia nodded. “I concur.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Lee answered and ran his fingers across his console. “Transmitting to helm and comm now.”
“Lieutenant Lopez?” Olivia asked.
“I have the course, Ma’am,” the helmsman answered after a quick check.
“Lieutenant Jones?” Olivia asked.
“Transmitting course now, Ma’am,” the comm officer reported and leaned to the side to listen to her earpiece. Then she nodded. “All ships confirm receipt.”
“Thank you,” Olivia said with a smile and turned her chair towards Malcolm with a look that asked if she really needed to report that they were ready to leave.
He chuckled and shook his head. He’d never been one to require pointless reports like that. Pointless to him at least. He understood why military forces were more careful though. It would never do to shoot up a planetary capital by accident because you mixed up your numbers, after all. That would seriously hurt an efficiency report. And that said nothing about how the citizens of the planet would react.
“We’re receiving a transmission from Bogey One, Ma’am,” Jones reported. “It’s broadcast in the clear. Full holo.”
Olivia looked at Malcolm, a questioning look on her face. He nodded back and she smiled. “Well, if they don’t care who hears, put it on display, please,” she ordered, waving at the main forward display.
The static system display that showed every ship near the Peloran yard faded away as he watched. In its place, the transmission Bogey One sent over half a minute ago came into focus. The transmission lag didn’t allow for live conversations, of course, but the woman who appeared on the display looked almost stubborn enough to try. Malcolm studied her black hair and narrow face, wondering if he knew her. She looked familiar, and he could have sworn he’d seen that face wearing a smile in the past, but he couldn’t place her.
“I am Commodore Murphy,” she began in a clear soprano, “commander Third Destroyer Squadron, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Fifth Star Fleet. On order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, we have been sent to impound all assets of the selfnamed Wolfenheim Project and secure them for return to Earth. All starships belonging to the Wolfenheim Project will stand down immediately and prepare to be boarded.”
Malcolm frowned, that feeling of almost recognition still tickling the back of his mind, as the display returned to the standard rendering of nearby space. He’d never heard a voice like that sound so harsh, but an echo of warmth tickled the back of his memories. And the name Murphy felt like something he should remember. He glanced at Dawn, a question in his eyes. She crossed her arms and smiled back with determination. Then he turned to see the eyes of the bridge crew on him. Now wasn’t the time to wonder why that woman over there felt familiar. Now was the time for action.
“We’re leaving,” he announced in a determined tone without rising from his chair. Dawn nodded in agreement beside him. “And I think she’s gonna follow. If you’ve got reservations about running from something like that, I understand.”
The bridge crew returned his look, recognizing the offer behind his words, and then turned to their captain. She smiled and he saw the haunted look in her eyes again. Pennsylvania had not been kind to her in the past, but he recognized her determination to never let them beat her. She turned and nodded at him. “Lieutenant Jones,” she began, her voice clear and strong. “Please inform Wolfenheim she can initiate acceleration now.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Jones answered without hesitation and began whispering into her microphone.
“Lieutenant Lopez,” Olivia continued, her voice that of a woman born to command a starship. “Maintain formation with Wolfenheim, if you please.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” the helmsman answered and ran his hands across the controls. He finally finished and leaned back in his chair, a pleased look on his face. A few seconds later, the massive colony ship’s engines glowed to life and she began to pull away from the Peloran yard complex. Normandy’s main engines rumbled in time with the larger ship, and Malcolm watched every ship of his squadron accelerate away from the complex in perfect synchronization. Not one of them was holding back. Except Hastings, of course.
“Malcolm,” Dawn whispered and he turned to look at her again. She glanced down and he followed her gaze to a small display floating in the air before him. It showed their small fleet accelerating away from the station and the incoming squadron. Projected courses of each fleet showed their routes through the sphere of space controlled by the Peloran yard’s gravitic interference. The Red Line marked the gravitic jamming field that forced all ships to keep their distance from the yard when diving or rising in and out of hyperspace. The display twitched, showing an escape pod accelerating away from Hastings.
“That’s Mary,” Dawn reported with approval. “She flashed the primary computers before evacuating.”
Malcolm smiled. “Good.” If they couldn’t have Hastings, wiping the only AI built to operate her would keep her out of their mitts for a while. The display showed the escape pod accelerating away from the ship until a passing shuttle snagged her with a tractor beam. Malcolm frowned and glanced at Dawn. “Is that good or bad?”
She chuckled. “Very good.” A gaggle of shuttles joined the first on the display, each accelerating away from the yard at what had to be maximum acceleration. “It seems somebody was thinking ahead,” Dawn whispered with a look towards Olivia. “She already had the crew assembled in the station hangar bays.”
“Good.” Malcolm hated leaving people behind. “Those shuttles can catch us, right?”
“They can catch Wolfenheim if they need to,” she answered, not quite correcting him. “They could never catch the rest of us if we didn’t keep our acceleration down, though.”
“Got it,” Malcolm whispered, back to scanning the display for any clue he could find.
“Aspect change on Bogey One,” Lieutenant Lee announced as Malcolm saw the display begin to shift. “Acceleration and course change. They’re turning our way.”
“Can they intercept us short of The Red Line?” Olivia asked.
“Still calculating, Ma’am,” Lee answered as the displayed course continued to change towards them. The man turned to her with a frown. “But one thing I can say is that these ships have absolutely modern drives, and the emissions we’re getting are right off the last refit package. I think they sent their Alpha Team to get us.”
“That’s good,” Olivia responded with an approving smile. The bridge crew seemed to waver at her demeanor, and she sighed. “Just think what it will do for morale when we pick up our skirts and dance away from their very best.”
She looked to her ship’s cyber with a smile, and then turned to Malcolm.
He met her gaze, and the captain who had extricated a cruiser from the slaughter of Epsilon Reticuli looked back at him. The woman who had saved Serenity and New Earth sat in the center of the bridge, bereft of the doubts that had plagued her since she lost everything. Even the strongest individuals would have to wonder if there was some grain of truth to the kind of charges she’d lived through after that campaign. But the Captain Olivia Wyatt that turned back to her crew showed none of those doubts, and he could almost see the tendrils of her command presence reach out and take control of the bridge.
“Bogey One has sent another transmission,” Jones reported from her station, then leaned into her ear. “It’s a repeat.” After another pause, she looked up. “But there’s a companion signal addressed to Alan.”
Captain Wyatt turned to her, eyes bright with interest, and Malcolm expected her to order it displayed again. She surprised him with two simple words. “Summarize it.”
Jones’ lips pressed together in worry, but then she twitched again and brought a hand to her ear. She looked up with a smile after that, her eyes bright. “They demand that Alan stop us from leaving, using all necessary force.” Everyone on the bridge tensed for a split second. Alan’s Peloran shipyard had more than enough firepower at his command to do exactly that, but Jones kept on talking. “But Alan just said he can’t. Seems his targeting grid is down due to scheduled maintenance,” she reported in a melancholy tone. Scattered laughter broke the tension and Malcolm smiled at Dawn. He’d been right about the man. Dawn returned his smile, a very slight shoulder twitch suggesting she’d never doubted the other cyber, as Jones continued her report. “He’s most apologetic, of course, and promises to hurry the reboot along. But he’s very much afraid it’ll take at least five minutes. Maybe longer.”
Captain Wyatt cleared her throat in something that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. “Keep that recording,” she ordered in a light tone. “I’m going to want to watch it later.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Jones returned, and one hand flashed across her console. “Sent to your personal storage.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Wyatt said, gave Malcolm a sidelong glance with amused eyes, and turned back to the forward display. “Now let’s see how she likes them apples.”
It would take at least a minute for Alan’s transmission to speed across space to Murphy’s squadron, and for her response to come back. And that entire minute they would spend accelerating away from Alan’s shipyard, getting one minute closer to escape. There were times when Malcolm appreciated that science fiction’s faster-than-light communications were still science fiction. It allowed for some purely amusing ways of giving someone the digitus maximus. It was almost enough to make him giggle. Almost. He hated the way he sounded when he giggled.
“Give Alan my thanks,” Malcolm whispered for only Dawn’s ears.
“He accepts them,” she answered after a short pause. “He just has one request.”
Malcolm turned to meet her gaze and said, “Anything,” without hesitation. At her look of surprise, he raised an eyebrow. “Alan’s not the kind of man to ask for something I’d object to,” he noted with a shrug.
Her eyes softened at the explanation, and she nodded slowly. “He wants you to say hello to his family when we reach the other side.”
“Done,” Malcolm said in the tone of a man giving a solemn oath, and turned back to watch the fun.
It took twenty minutes to reach the edge of the gravitic distortion field the Peloran yard generated, and they spent the entire time listening to Jones relaying increasingly annoyed transmissions between Alan and Murphy. Wyatt stopped asking for copies after the third set of transmissions, but only because Jones preempted her with what had to have been an actual giggle. The tension that had filled the bridge evaporated as reports of recovering the shuttles carrying Hastings’ crew arrived, and even the grey-coveralled yard dogs joined in the banter that took over. Not a single one of them stood up to leave, telling everyone where they stood without a single word. Or in this case, where they crawled under consoles still in need of work.
“All ships confirm crossing The Red Line, Ma’am,” Jones finally reported, and all eyes turned to Captain Wyatt.
“Lieutenant Lee?” Captain Wyatt asked, her voice somehow mixing strength with amusement, hovering over an inner core of iron.
“Sensors confirm, Ma’am,” the officer manning the sensors returned. “All ships are safe to dive.”
The Captain glanced at her first officer.
Commander Hill met her gaze and nodded. “All stations report ready to dive.”
“Very well, then,” The Captain said and turned to her helm officer. “Lieutenant Lopez. Commence diving operations immediately.”
“Diving now, Ma’am,” Lopez answered, hands running over his controls. Then the ship twisted around them, and Malcolm’s stomach took a hard turn to the left while the rest of his body went right. At least that is what it felt like. He’d never cared for going in and out of hyperspace, especially at the kinds of speeds that twenty minutes of hard acceleration could generate. He held on to his breakfast through force of will. It had been a very good breakfast, and he didn’t want to remember it splashed all over the deck.
And then his eyes registered the sight all around them. Rivers of light made of every color of the rainbow flowed around Normandy and the other ships of the fleet. Gravity itself shivered and bent as their powerful gravitic fields smashed the rivers before their prows, and wakes of disturbed gravity radiated away from the fresh intruders into its domain.
“Lieutenant Lopez. Set course for the New Earth–Sunnydale Run and take us to maximum depth.”
“New Earth–Sunnydale Run, aye Ma’am,” Lopez responded and Normandy began accelerating again. “Maximum depth, aye Ma’am,” the helm officer added, and the brightly colored gravitic waves became muted as they dove away from the wall between hyperspace and normalspace.
Malcolm watched the fleet pick up their skirts and dance away from their pursuers. The Captain turned her chair and their eyes met. He saw Olivia in them again, softer now than the persona she’d used to hold the bridge crew to her command. And he saw something new over the haunted look that still resided back there. Now he saw pleasure in a job well done, and confidence that she hadn’t lost her touch. There were still doubts there, but in the first test of her mettle since the court martial that ended her career as a Captain in the United States Navy, she’d risen to the challenge.
Malcolm smiled. They’d all made it out of Alpha Centauri. And whatever the future held, he had a feeling they would all remember that until the day they died. Whenever that day came for them.