The galactic rim was a place full of wonder and mystery beyond man's comprehension. Even the most minor of discoveries beyond the rim were of such cosmic importance that the commander of an Explorer ship lived in perpetual intrigue. Each jump led to a new place never before viewed by human eyes, virgin territory for scientific exploration or economic exploitation. Explorer ships were tasked with the duty of discovering new space and building new jump gates, spending years or even decades at the edge of the unknown.
Captain Jack Maynard took command of the EAS Cortez in 2254 and, god willing, would captain it untill the day he died. Like its namesake, the Cortez was destined to break new ground and conquer the unknown. Admittedly the unknown's Jack favored were scientific rather than sapient. It was just as well, explorer ships were heavy on mass but notably lacking in weapons. If their mission required heavier armaments than a handful of Starfuries, they were in for a nasty surprise.
Not that their Starfuries were anything but the best of the best, Zeta Squadron had originally been intended as a gift to Babylon 5. In light of the rather startling redirect from repairing the Euphrates Sector Jump Gates to the edge of Drazi space they had understandably been transferred to his command. It had taken some effort to get Ray Gallus and his men into suitable accommodations. They had, after all, only been planning on just transporting them to Babylon Five. However with a little gumption and a bit of creative re-arranging of the current cargo situation they'd managed to get everyone living in reasonable comfort.
As per the President's orders the EAS Cortez was scouring the sector where the Imperials had first shown up for signs of their place of origin. It was no mean feat considering that the Imperials were reportedly equally ignorant of local stellar geography, but a thrilling one for Jack, “I cannot possibly imagine what their home planet looks like. Can you?”
Commander Steven Jonas, a slight man with a distinct overbite and a pronounced lisp, looked up from the chess board balanced on the small mess hall table. His hand, paused in movement above a white rook, did not so much as shake as he considered his options, “The Imperials you mean?”
“Who else?” Jack chuckled in a deep baritone, “Every time we jump we're getting closer to them, I can taste it.”
“I suspect it looks a great deal like their paintings of it. You've seen the history they gave us,” The Commander smiled and moved his bishop, taking Jack's knight before tapping the clock, “Massive cities, lots of people in robes, and a whole mess of skulls.”
“We know what the idealized image of how they want to represent themselves looks Steve. They're all religiously idealized images of their society. Praying to the great gods and paragons to save them from evil,” Jack convivially jibed as he pushed his pawn forward in an effort to force the bishop to retreat, “But that isn't how their whole society looks like any more than a painting from the wall of a church shows all of the human colonies.”
“You notice how all of their saints are carrying guns?” Commander Jonas moved his knight behind Jack's pawn, taking a bishop and forcing him to block with his queen, “Including their emperor? I would have paid way more attention in confirmation class if Jesus had been packing a PPG.”
“Even the Catholic church tends to show angels with swords and spears. I think they just happen to have a religion founded more recently than the bronze age. If they'd crucified Jesus in the Cold War we'd be painting Angels in green fatigues with M-14s,” Jack moved out of check and took a rook that strayed too close to his king, “I'm just looking forward to making first contact with their planet.”
“Sir we've jumped a hundred times so far without doing more than a passive scan of the sector. The techs aren't loving that. You know they consider a trip a failure without having at least spent a day collecting samples,” With a little flourish Commander Jonas took Jack's pawn off the table, moving his queen into position with a satisfied flourish, “They're going a bit stir crazy.”
“I understand their frustrations,” Jack sighed and moved his king, knowing full well the next move would be checkmate, “But orders are orders. Clark wants the Empire found as soon as possible, proper cartography be damned. We're lucky he hasn't got all the Explorer ships out here doing the same thing.”
“It's just that we need to have them doing something other than just sitting around on their hands. I've been talking with some of the pilots and they want to organize a basketball tournament,” Jonas moved his knight again, checkmating Jack's king with great satisfaction.
“Basketball?” Jack repeated.
“Yes sir, it's a sport that none of the men onboard are spectacularly skilled at and it doesn't require any specialized gear other than the ball,” The commander pointed above his head in the general direction of the cargo bay, “And we have about a hundred of them that were destined for Babylon Five that are just eating a hole in our cargo bay at the moment.”
“Alright Steven, if you can get the players it sounds fine to me,” Jack started to speak when his communications badge chirruped loudly. He tapped it and held it up to his mouth, “Captain Maynard speaking.”
“Captain we need you on the bridge,” the comms officer cheerily replied, “There's a ship on the other side of the planet that just popped out of nowhere. The radiation profile conforms with what we know about the Imperial method of travel. And sir... it's the biggest ship I've ever seen. Just massive. The sensors actually missed it for a couple hours because they were glitching out every time they tried to focus on it.”
“Send them the standard greeting package with an additional message of greeting in high gothic on microwave transmission,” Jack stood up from the table and started walking towards the main corridor of the ship, “I'll be there in five.”
He deactivated his link and held out his hand. Steven looked at it in annoyance, “We don't know it's them yet.”
“Shut up and pay up Steven,” Jack smiled, “I won.”
His second in command reluctantly shoved five credits into Jack's hand as the two of them sprinted in the direction of the Command deck. The Explorer ship was massive, as large as an O'Neill class station. There was a good quarter mile of ship between them and the command deck not to mention two flights of stairs.
“The next one of these gets an elevator,” huffed Steven as they rounded a corner and started ascending the ladder to deck 12, “And a transport tube.”
“Take it up with the Senate,” wheezed Jack, “I'm totally in favor of it.”
Steven opened his mouth to give a sarcastic reply but fell flat on his face as the floor beneath him shoot with a sudden burst of kinetic impact. He yelped in pain as his knees met deck plates, “Jesus!”
Grabbing onto the ship's cargo webbing for support Jack screamed into his link, “What the hell was that?”
“Sir,” replied the horrified voice of the comms officer, “They just fired on us after ordering us to surrender. Those were torpedo impacts.”
“Damage report!” The commander rubbed the blood from his nose as he spoke into his own link, reaching over to the wall and breaking the glass on the emergency condition alarm hanging from the wall. The hall lights switched from white to red, blaring klaxons warning the crew to get to safety.
“Sir none of the torpedoes have exploded, they bored into the side of the ship then stopped. No major damage to the ship,” the floor bucked again, struts shaking from the force of another impact, “Belay that. Our engines are down, I repeat our engines and docking bay are down. We've taken a direct hit from a laser battery of some sort. Critical damage across the board.”
“Why would they fire munitions that don't explode when they already have effective weapons?” Jack chewed his lip, “There's no reason for that – unless,” Jack swore, “Ensign. I need you to run a life signs detector on those torpedoes.”
“Sir why would I?” She paused again before replying, “Yes sir, twenty confirmed life-signs.”
“Just what I need,” Jack double-tapped his communications chip, “This is a general order to all crew-members of the Cortez. Prepare to repel boarders.”
The crew rushed into action, scientists and non-combat personnel heading for the bridge as GROPOS in hastily fastened combat armor marched in the direction of the boarders. Having gone so long without actually being in combat some of them were running down the hallways half-naked and carrying plasma rifles. A private he vaguely recognized as being named Daniels ran into combat wearing nothing more than his flak armor and a pink set of boxer shorts.
“We need to get to the weapons lockers sir,” Steven pulled out his side arm as he listened to the distant sound of booming gunfire echoing through the halls in a cacophony of human suffering, “Make sure that they don't fall into enemy hands.”
“Of course,” Jack said before correcting himself, “No, we need to get to the secondary bridge and get it into lockdown. Those munitions won't help us if they can shut down life support.”
“You think they know about that sir?” Commander Jonas asked, motioning for three GROPOS in full combat armor to follow them.
“They took our our engines and flight deck faster than it took us to even realize we were in the same system. We have to assume they have scans of our ship,” Jack slid back down the ladder, landing on his feet with a loud thump of combat boots on steel. This was not how first contact with the Empire was supposed to go.
They dropped three decks before they got their first sight of the boarders. They saw only the merest glimpse of retreating white pauldron bearing a black cross through the smoke, but it was enough to scare Jack senseless. Five men lay butchered in the hall, gored to death. One man, just barely on the edge of life, still twitched where he'd been pinned to the wall with a blade as long as Jack's leg set to a pommel thicker than a soda can. As the man coughed his death rattle he spat up thick globules of blood onto finger marks the size of cucumbers where a massive hand had ripped a pressure door from its hinges.
A flicker of movement caught Jack's eye and he fell to the ground, narrowly avoiding a gout of flame. “Jesus Christ!” Jack swore, crossing himself in horror before gritting his teeth and picking up a discarded phased-plasma rifle from the recent dead, “Don't just stand there! Kill the mother-fragger!”
Shrugging off the discharges of phased-plasma the massive black armored figure activated the trigger on the sword in his left hand, activating the saw tooth blades as he swung at the gut of the nearest GROPO, bursting him like a ripe melon. In a frenzy of black armor and swirling robes he spun around and roasted a second GROPO with his flamethrower, discarding it as it's fuel ran out, “Für deus rex imperator! Für Terra!”
The third GROPO planted in armored figures optics and fired, bursting the electronics and turning the grim mask into molted slag. With a scream of pain the man tore the helmet from his head and smashed it into the face of the remaining GROPO, crushing it.
Stephen lashed out with his combat knife, aiming for the joints of the man's armor but fell to the ground with a pained yelp as the man karate chopped him across the leg. It broke with thunderous a wet pop, dropping to the ground in pain.
Jack dropped his gun in apparent surrender, holding his hands behind his head. The armored man approached Jack, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and examining his rank pins in apparent satisfaction before holstering his sword. Apparently the Captain was important enough not to just murder him. He spoke in thunderous basso, “Du es tu Gefangener.”
Jack looked at the dead men piled around him and pulled the plasma grenade from where he'd concealed it behind his head and smashed it into the open mouth of the armored man, “Frag you!”
The astonished man's head exploded into a bloody mess along with Jack's arm as the grenade burst with enough force to crack a bulkhead. Jack screamed in pain as he landed in a heap on the ground, clutching his bloody stump of an arm. As he scrambled to stem the flow of blood from his body he looked up and into the face of the grim reaper himself.
An armored figure, even more massive than the first, waded in through the corpses, the intricate patterns of his baroque design patterned after the skull and bones of a human being. He knelt over the headless corpse of his compatriot, saying words of prayer as he pressed down on the other man's breastplate. The Reaper examined the wounds before turning his glowing red eyes upon Jack.
Skeletal fingers grabbed hold of him and lifted him to eye level as the Reaper pulled a flamethrower pistol from his holster and held it up to Jack's stump. The Reaper fired, cauterizing the wound and tossing him back to the floor before speaking in heavily accented Interlac, “You do not die so easy. The Emperor has a use for you.”
A/N : There are no doubt errors in this. Please feel free to point them out to me. As always reviews are welcome. A special thanks to Nuts! on Spacebattles.com for working as my beta reader.