Elegy on the Bridge of a Starship, 1100 words
“I think that’s us finished, then.” said Flag-Captain Achille Thak, rising from his command throne. That was news to nobody, of course, but he felt like it had to be said.
The bridge crew, or what was left of it, didn’t react much. They had a helmsman, but no engines. The gunnery officers had no weapons to coordinate, and even if they had, the communications systems to the gun bays were dead. The techpriests normally assigned to the bridge had left to attend to more pressing matters elsewhere, and the one that had remained was now little more than a stinking pile of charred cybernetics in the corner. He’d plugged into one of the monitoring consoles, and had immediately collapsed before catching fire.
Lieutenant Rikkel was dead too, as were the two shields officers. Their console had short circuited, and when he’d come to help them try to put out the fire, it had exploded, shredding all three. Shrapnel had injured several of the other crewmen, and a minute after they’d been taken to the medical bay, the Alesia had suffered a hull breach, venting the first eighteen decks to vacuum. Now the bridge was sealed off, and there was nothing left to do but wait.
Yes, they were finished. No engines, no weapons- shields, as far as he knew, were still up, shown by the fact that they weren’t yet dead. But they were helpless in the void, and there was nothing he could do.
He heard the rasp of leather from behind him; turning slightly, he saw Ship’s Commissar Dirrik drawing his laspistol. “Unless you’ve come up with some sort of revelation to help us repair this vessel, Commissar, I don’t think there’s any reason to do that.”
Dirrik already had the weapon lined up on the captain’s head. “If you’re just giving up, then yes, there is.” He thumbed the safety off, with an audible click. Thak found himself wondering for a second whether the Commissariat issued unnecessarily loud weapons for intimidation purposes- it seemed like something they would do
.“Not just giving up.” The captain nodded to Harren at the helm. “Would you order the reactors overloaded, Ensign?”
“Suicide, then.” spat Dirrik, holstering his weapon.
Thak shrugged. “Blast shielding up.” he ordered; with a harsh grating noise, the plating that covered the viewports to the outside slid up, revealing the battle outside- or rather, what had been a battle. Their sister ship, the Nervian, had been reduced to floating debris twenty minutes before, and enemy salvage teams were combing through the wreckage. A few fighters from Alesia had survived, but were being hunted by swarms of traitors. “We’re already being boarded, anyway. The thought of these traitors gaining anything from this vessel disgusts me.”
Harren was already busy relaying his orders- thank the Emperor that his vox-link to the reactors was still intact. Good man. It was a shame that so many bright young officers like him had to end their careers here.
Dirrik folded his arms, bowing his head contemplatively. No doubt he was trying to think of some way to salvage the situation, or at least strike a stronger blow against the heretical bastards who’d crippled Alesia. Well, he was welcome to try.
One of the gunnery men was sobbing. Kerk, a young fellow from Cypra Mundi, and the best lance operator Thak had seen- his superior, Dunn Ribbe, had a hand on his back, comforting him. They were the last few, with Harren and Dirrik and Thak, the last five on the bridge. The last of the command crew of the Alesia. Oh, how the mighty had fallen.
Thak walked past the gunnery station to the emergency store cupboard, his stride measured and heavy, boots ringing on the deck. A few scatterguns, in case they were boarded, a rack of vac suits, and a crystal decanter half-full of amasec. Not bad; pouring two glasses, he brought them over to Kerk and Ribbe. “Chins up. The Emperor protects, after all.”
They took them; Kerk, valiantly trying to fight back the tears, snuffled a thank you. Ribbe simply nodded in gratitude, glancing up at his captain. Returning to the cupboard, Thak poured two more. “Commissar, would you care for a glass?” he asked, without looking back.
Dirrik didn’t say anything; the captain took that as a “yes”, and poured three. Bringing one to Harren, he held the other out to the commissar. It took a second, but then, mechanically, Dirrik took it, cradling the delicately cut glass in huge, calloused fingers.
“To Alesia, and to our fallen comrades.” Thak said, lifting his glass. The others followed suit, a few murmured words issuing into the silence of the ravaged bridge, and then brought the glasses to their lips.
Harren broke the silence with a coughing fit. “Pardon me, Captain, but what in the hell is this stuff?” he asked, after finally managing to recover. That got laughter, actual laughter, out of Kerk and Ribbe; even Dirrik smiled a bit, the first time that had ever happened.
“I got used to it back on Cypra Mundi. Cheap and strong- all that a cadet wants in a drink.”
This time, Dirrik let ought a laugh. The things people would do when they were about to die- all so surprising. The Commissar, the epitome of emotionless killing, actually laughing. A recording of that would likely be the sort of thing passed around in the barracks, amid accusations of forgery.
Kerk sniffled, dragging the back of his hand across his eyes. “It’s absolutely terrible, sir.”
Harren’s console beeped. The helmsman glanced over, and then back to the captain. “Reactor is overloading. We’ve got one minute.”
Achille chuckled, shrugging his shoulders. “Well, you had better finish those. Leaving amasec undrunk is a special kind of heresy.” Draining his own glass, he tossed it aside, hearing it shatter on the deck. “It’s been an honor, men.”
He walked over to one of the viewports, straightening his tunic and folding his hands behind his back. There was a sort of serenity in staring out into the void. The spinning wreckage, the pinpoints of light that were the enemy salvage vessels…
Dirrik came up beside him, reaching out and tapping the heavy star that hung on the captain’s chest. “What did you get that for?”
“Boarding action, when I was a lieutenant. Took a stub round meant for my captain.” Achille chuckled again, lopsided smile spreading across his face. “Truthfully, it was an accident. I slipped and fell into him.”
“Well done.” The commissar finished his drink, and sighed. “Are you ready for this?”