Chapter 12- The Abyss

“Sunrider has arrived at the Mnemosyne Abyss, Captain.  We’re back in normal space,” Ava announced, not that anyone would be able to tell otherwise; the main screen was still pitch black.

“I guess they don’t call it an Abyss for nothing… Activate our running lights, get me visual on our situation,” ordered Kayto.

Sunrider’s hull lit up as powerful lights activated, cutting swaths through the darkness of the Mnemosyne Abyss.

“Holy Ryuvia…” Ava exhaled quietly as the search lights illuminated the scene.  Ancient Ryuvian ships, with holes and craters pockmarking their hulls, drifted, silent and dead in the vacuum of space.  As the lights panned around and Sunrider’s computers put together a composite video feed, it became clear that the Tautenian legends had not exaggerated the scale of the battle that had taken place here; easily a hundred dead ships drifted in Sunrider’s immediate visual range, long range sensors painted even more, perhaps thousands of hulls farther out.

The entire region of space had a still, claustrophobic feeling, as though the Sunrider and her crew were venturing into a forbidden and unwelcoming tomb.  Thick, inky darkness surrounded them, shying away only from their powerful lights, but threatening to drown them at a moment’s notice.  Many of the Ryuvian ships, at least the ones they could see, appeared to have a similar design philosophy to each other.  Arrowhead shaped like the Sunrider, the Ryuvian ships were a dull matte gray interrupted by blue accents with no discernible purpose other than aesthetics.  Looking at the ships, it was impossible to tell what kinds of weapons they had mounted; the entire hull appeared to be one smooth, contiguous plate with no obvious cannons or guns.  Vessel tonnage appeared to vary somewhat; some ships were smaller than the Sunrider, while others were easily an entire half a kilometer longer; regardless of their size or original function, all the ships appeared, superficially at least, identical.

Kayto swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.  “Move us into the debris field, scan for any active electrical or radiation signals.”

“Nothing, Captain,” reported Ava after consulting her monitors for a moment.  “It’s all quiet out there; I’m not detecting a single active signal.”

“A ship graveyard…” whispered Kayto.  “My grandfather used to tell me stories about them when I was a kid… this feels like it could be right out of one of them.”

Ava nodded, her face slightly paler than usual.  Nobody in the CIC wanted to admit it, but they had all grown up hearing the same exact stories of ancient Ryuvian ghost ships and the like. Now, as the Sunrider picked her way through the eerie silence of the Mnemosyne Abyss, nearly everyone was on edge, hairs standing on the backs of their necks.

“BOO!”

“Holy Ryuvia!” Kayto and the rest of the CIC crew jumped a mile in the air as Asaga’s hologram materialized on the deck, cackling maliciously.  “You’ve got some nerve, Pilot!”

“Just wanted to let you know we’re standing by,” grinned Asaga maniacally as Kayto and Ava both clutched their chests and wildly beating hearts.  “Anytime you want us to head on out, you let us know, Capt’n.”

Kayto glared at her. “Launch and spread out, move on ahead of Sunrider and feed us recon.  Get off my damn ship.”

“Yes Sir!”  Asaga turned slightly, addressing her wing.  “All right people, you heard the Old Man!  Let’s get off this tub and do some sightseein’!”

Sunrider’s Ryder wing dropped out of her launch bays, spreading out into the darkness of the abyss and activating their own running lights.

“Captain…” Ava’s voice was hushed and uncertain.  “I’m getting a strange reading at the edge of our sensor range.”

“Show me.”

Ava copied him the screen she was looking at.  An unusual spire-like structure with five flanges radiating out of the central pillar at one end appeared, at complete odds with the rest of the ship profiles they had seen previously.  “It’s over four kilometers long, some kind of ancient warship, if I had to guess…” said Ava with wonder.

“It might just be what we were looking for…” mused Kayto, still taking in the vast debris field.  “Can you imagine just how much Lost Technology must be out here?  This is probably the biggest find of the century… think about all the history and technology this represents… If only we could examine all of it…”

“Do you really think the Crown Jewel is here, Captain?” asked Ava.

“It’s probably more likely here than anywhere else we know of,” shrugged Kayto.  “Have the Ryders move towards that strange looking ship; we’ll follow too.  That’s where we’ll start our investigation.”

“Roger that, incoming feeds from the Ryders,” confirmed Ava.

Asaga, Chigara, Icari, and Claude all materialized in the CIC as the main screen separated to show their live feeds as well.  All the pilots had wondrous expressions on their faces, tempered by the merest hint of apprehension.

“It’s… beautiful,” said Chigara softly, her blue eyes alight with passion as she stared out at the Ryuvian ships.

“In all my years of piloting and traveling… I’ve never seen anything like this,” confirmed Icari eagerly.  “Captain, are you seeing this?”

“Yeah…” Kayto muttered, equally transfixed as the Sunrider powered deeper into the ancient battlefield.

“Hey, look at that!” Chigara’s voice quickened with excitement.  “That ship’s almost perfectly preserved!  Scanning now… Captain, judging from the radiation leak and decay from its reactor, I’m dating this ship to be almost… two thousand years old!  And this ship still has intact lateral markings… it looks like it used to be part of the Ryuvian Princess’ Royal Guard!”

“Incredible…” whispered Ava.  “Even after so long… we’re barely capable of a tenth of what these people could do…”

“This was a battle, no doubt about it,” Icari announced, slightly grim.  “Phoenix is detecting large amounts of organic matter aboard the ships; probably the crew when they got spaced and flash frozen.  Visual coming up now…”

Phoenix’s live feed zoomed in on an observation deck on the ruined Ryuvian ship, its running lights peering through the windows and illuminating a grisly scene.  A dozen men and women drifted gently, their ancient robes devoid of color after so long, but otherwise intact.  Their bodies were twisted in agonizing positions, faces screaming out, undoubtedly the last thing they did before the air was sucked out of their lungs when their observation deck took a direct hit from their ancient enemy.

“Wow… you can even see some body parts!” Icari said enthusiastically, zooming in on one unfortunate case that seemed to have been blown up and frozen mid-explosion in a spectacular burst of freeze dried blood.

Chigara turned pale, “Uuu… I think I’m getting a little equipment malfunction… Icari, your feed’s cutting out on my end.”

“Looks like the ships are more damaged further in,” observed Icari, jetting away from the grisly scene.  “Seems like that giant, weird ship’s at the center of everything.”

“That would make sense,” Chigara’s voice still sounded weak.  “If that super-dreadnought was able to fire some kind of weapon that radiated outwards from itself, it would be intact while everything around it was destroyed.”

“I wonder which side it was on and why they thought it was necessary to sacrifice their entire fleet too…” asked Kayto rhetorically.  “Ryders, get in closer to that super-dreadnought and check it out.”

“Roger that,” answered Asaga, leading the others towards the massive Ryuvian ship.  “Feeding you visual now, Sunrider.  Looks like there are some hanger bays or something… I’m going to go ahead and check it out!”

“Wait a minute!” protested Kayto.  “Stay together, we don’t know what could happen out here!”

“Aww, come on Capt’n!” Asaga stuck her tongue out rebelliously.  “It’s just a big old dead ship, none of your silly ghost stories!  What’s there to be scared of?”

“This is not the time for bravado,” chastised Kayto.  “Listen to yourself, don’t you think you’re being careless?”

Ignoring him, Black Jack pushed forward, leaving the other Ryders behind and disappearing into the opening in the side of the ship.  “Wow… it’s pretty spacious in here,” reported Asaga.  “This was definitely some kind of carrier…  it’s all open space and docking berths once you get in here… wow, there must be room for a thousand or more Ryders!”

Asaga’s visual feed depicted a dizzying image of a central pillar with occasional struts sticking out at irregular intervals.  Hundreds upon hundreds of invaginated pits large enough to admit a Ryder studded the far and inner walls, stretching out into the distance.  Incredibly enough, the entire ship interior appeared to be more like an insect hive than anything else, undoubtedly capable of launching hundreds of Ryders within minutes in its heyday.

“That makes sense,” chimed in Chigara, enraptured by Asaga’s feed.  “The Ryuvians invented Ryders in the first place, so it’s reasonable that they had carriers the same as we do.  The scale of this ship, though… it’s an order of magnitude larger than anything we have today…”

“If I were to guess, the command center’s probably towards the flared end of the ship,” said Asaga.  “I’m going to head over there now.”

“Think the crew’s still frozen there?” smirked Icari, now leading the other three Ryders into the ship at a more cautious speed.

“Who knows?” Asaga grinned.  “But I’m not seeing any crew out here… weird.  How could you run a ship this big without crew?”

“Maybe this ship was AI controlled!” Chigara swooned.  “That would be incredible!”

“Is that even possible?” asked Icari skeptically.  “We sure as hell don’t have AI’s today.”

“If anyone had them, it would be the Ryuvians,” smiled Chigara.  “Their technology exceeds ours so far that we can’t even begin to guess what they were capable of.”

“I’ve made it to the central airlock,” declared Asaga.  “Setting Black Jack down… wow!  According to my sensors, there’s still atmosphere and life support past that door!  I’m getting out of my Ryder and taking a look around!”

“Are you crazy?!” demanded Icari.  “Give us ten minutes and we’ll back you up.  You’ve got no idea what’s beyond that airlock!”

“Oohh, who’s scared now?” teased Asaga.

“Asaga…” Kayto warned.

“Relax, Capt’n!” Asaga waved his concern off and sealed her helmet.  “I’ll be feeding you POV from my suit camera the whole time, everything’s going to be fine.  I’m entering the airlock now,” she announced.

The video from Asaga’s helmet cam was slightly shaky as she closed the airlock behind her.  Clanging and hissing shook the camera slightly as the room pressurized and the far door opened, allowing her to walk into the gloom of the massive ship’s command deck.  Turning on her suit lights, Asaga illuminated the surprisingly small room.  A single console rose from the center of the room, raised on a dais.  The functions of the panel, however, were inscrutable, the entire apparatus appearing only to be a half-globe roughly the size of a large beach ball without any obvious buttons or switches.

“What the heck is this?” asked Asaga, circling the device.  “Don’t tell me this entire ship was flown by one person… wait… there’s something else…”

Asaga looked up, pointing her helmet towards a bright light coming from an adjacent room.  Walking towards the bluish light, Asaga’s breath quickened as she poked her head into the room.  “It’s… some kind of capsule… and, there’s someone in it!”

Kayto’s eyes were wide as he watched the video feed.  Part of him wanted to scream for her to get out of there immediately, the other part had to know who was in the capsule and why.  Floating stark naked and curled in a semi-fetal position in whatever mysterious fluid was contained in the capsule, a slender, almost elfin statured girl of breathtaking beauty looked apparently asleep, her white hair waving gently with the currents.  There was only one explanation he could come up with.  “It’s… an Ancient Ryuvian…” Kayto whispered reverently.

“Capt’n!” Asaga’s voice was astonished as she investigated a read out panel set slightly away from the capsule.  “Capt’n!  She’s alive!”

The blue lighting of the chamber suddenly plunged into blood red as an alarm, low and menacing, rang out.

“What did you do?” demanded Kayto with a sinking feeling.

“Nothing!” Asaga’s breathing rate tripled as she backpedaled wildly from the console.  “I didn’t even touch it!”

“Ga’rk!  Sharn-la ree seath ta!” a monstrous, low voice boomed out on the ship, shaking Asaga to the bone.

“What’s that supposed to mean!?” demanded Asaga.

“It means haul ass and get out of there!” yelled Kayto, pounding his armrest in frustration.  Curiosity had gotten the best of all of them, although it would be Asaga who would pay for the misstep.

“Roger that Cap-” Asaga stopped suddenly.  “Uhh… where’d that sleeping beauty go?”

Kayto realized with a sinking feeling as her helmet camera panned over that the fluid tank was now empty.

“ASAGA, GET OUT OF THERE NOW!” Kayto bellowed.  Asaga’s video feed turned as she spun towards the exit.  For a moment, the coast was clear, until the girl, wild eyed, pale, and wet, lunged from one of the many shadows in the room, knocking into Asaga’s helmet with a feral expression marring her face before the feed cut out.

“Captain!  We’ve lost contact with Asaga’s suit!” Ava sounded shaken.

“Massive power surge detected!” Chigara’s voice also sounded panicked.  “That ship’s coming to life!  Also detecting multiple power signatures activating in the fleet!”

“I knew it!” Icari’s eyes were wild.  “This is a haunted ship graveyard!  They’re coming back to life!”

“Multiple contacts, Captain,” Ava’s fingers flew furiously over her command consoles.  “Detecting multiple weapon locks!  Captain, they’re targeting us!”

“Damn it!”  Kayto gritted his teeth.  Things had gone from serene to extremely dangerous in a matter of seconds.  Asaga would have to rely on herself for the moment; his duty was first and foremost to the most lives at stake, which meant protecting the Sunrider and hoping that his CAG would make it back onto the Black Jack and out of that ship on her own.  “Red Alert!  All hands to battle stations!  Icari, you’re the CAG now, form up and get back to Sunrider on the double.  I don’t know what these ships can do, but we’ve got to take them out if we’re getting out of here alive.”

“Roger that, Captain!” Icari’s voice was cold and professional as her training kicked in and overrode her panic.  “Liberty, Bianca, on me!”  Arcing around, the Phoenix and the other two Ryders, one on each flank, came about and streaked towards the Sunrider, positioning themselves in a protective screen in front of her, facing the incoming Ancient Ryuvian ships, now aglow with an almost supernatural blueish light.

“Fire Saviors, maximum firing rate!” barked Katyo as Sunrider’s deck guns let loose.  The heavy kinetic slugs rained down on the Ancient Ryuvian ship, slamming into its armor and drilling into its hull.  Even after taking a full two salvos head on, the Ryuvian ship remained intact and active, bearing down on the Sunrider.  “Damn,” Kayto gritted his teeth.  “That’s one hell of a ship…  Icari, use the debris fields as cover, take that ship out!  Chigara, see if you can hack their systems, buy us some time!”

Phoenix rocketed forward, diving in between ancient wrecked hulls as Icari weaved her way to the wounded Ryuvian ship.  Flitting out of cover, she emptied her assault cannons into the damaged hull, tearing apart exposed decks and systems through the gaping holes Sunrider’s Saviors had left.  The barrage proved too much, even for Ryuvian engineering, and the ship shut down, looking for all intents and purposes no different than the wrecks of its sister ships.

“Hey Chigara?” Claude’s voice came over the comms dreamily.

“Kind of busy…” Chigara’s voice was strained as she struggled to interface with the vastly different Ryuvian software architecture to exploit a weakness.

“Well… I was just wondering… what was that electronic warfare module you were telling me about again?” inquired Claude innocently.

“Just push the big red button!” Chigara sighed exasperatedly.  “Bianca’s already programmed to handle the rest.”

“Okaaayyy…” Claude pushed the button three times, targeting each of the Ryuvian ships in turn.  “Whoa… look at all this fancy computer stuff… I’ll just change this and that…”

Two Ryuvian ships opened fire simultaneously, launching a pack of missiles each.  The third ship struggled, apparently disabled by Chigara’s interference.  The missiles streaked towards Phoenix, tightly on target at first until several inexplicably deviated from their trajectory, some even careening into their neighbors.  Between whatever damage Claude had inflicted upon their targeting computers and the Phoenix’s dodging capabilities and cover behind the debris field, not a single missile found its mark.  Their impacts did, however, punch through the shattered hulls of the long dead ships of the debris field with almost insulting ease, detonating with a brilliant blue explosion.

Kayto breathed out in relief; clearly, the missiles were bad news for anyone hit by one; one full barrage would almost certainly overwhelm a single Ryder or punch several punishing holes into Sunrider if they were allowed to connect.

“Sorry I’m late, everyone!” Asaga’s voice roared through on the comm, her connection suddenly re-establishing with the Sunrider and the other Ryders as Black Jack came soaring out of the massive Ryuvian super-dreadnought.

“Asaga!” Kayto felt another wave of relief, “What happened in there?”

“I dunno, Capt’n!  One second I was flat on my back, the next-,” Asaga sounded as confused as he felt.

“Never mind that!” shouted Icari, interrupting her.  “You’ve got three bogey’s on your tail, Black Jack!”

“Three?” Asaga’s confusion deepened.  “That’s impossible, there’s only one pilot!”

“Pilot?  You mean the girl who attacked you?” asked Kayto, head spinning.

“I think so, she gave me a pretty good wallop before she ran out the airlock,” replied Asaga.  “Whoa!  That was close!”  Black Jack swerved side to side as it dodged three shots from the pursuing Ryders.  The Ryuvian Ryders fired from a long barreled weapon Kayto had never seen before, discharging some kind of laser fire at Black Jack.  Unlike a laser, however, the beam did not appear to inflict any thermal damage on Black Jack’s armor as it grazed past, impacting as a kinetic slug instead, rocking the Black Jack unexpectedly.

“Looks like two of the three are semi-solid holograms projected by the super-dreadnought, Captain!  Only one of them is real!” Chigara said disbelievingly, reading her Liberty’s sensor data with interest.

“I dunno…” Asaga did not sound convinced as she continued to dodge and weave, trying to throw the other Ryders’ pursuit.  “None of those shots felt like anything fake to me…”

“Tsch!” Icari snarled.  “Even after two thousand years… these enemies are insane!  What kind of technology could do that?!”

“Never mind, we can’t do anything about it,” said Kayto.  “All pilots, focus on the mission.  We’ve got to break past those other three ships and the Ryders.  Icari, Phoenix is the only Ryder with the engines fast enough to get to those cruisers without getting cut down.  Punch it and get in close to the ship coming in on our starboard flank.  Stick to the debris fields if you can, Sunrider will cover you.”

“Roger that!” Icari grinned, opening up the Phoenix’s throttle to maximum and shooting straight for the targeted Ryuvian ship.  Additional missiles locked onto her exhaust, but the Phoenix made for too nimble of a target, even for the Ancient Ryuvians, as she led them on a wild chase.  Dodging into a debris field, Phoenix executed a series of hairpin dives and turns.  By the time Icari emerged, the missiles had exhausted themselves or slammed into debris, unable to keep up with her maneuvers.

Sunrider’s Saviors opened fire, launching two salvos that streaked past the Phoenix, slamming into the Ryuvian ship.  As with the previous ship, the slugs penetrated her armor, but failed to deliver a killing blow, which Icari was more than happy to provide.  Putting the Phoenix into a dive, Icari hit her firing controls, blazing away at the damaged ship and scoring a hit on something vital inside which caused the ship to chain with explosions.  As the Ryuvian ship broke apart, she passed into yet another debris field, diving behind a long-dead ship hull for cover as her engines did their best to radiate excess heat.

A few seconds later, the entire hull she had been taking cover behind started to shake as the remaining Ryuvian ships dumped their missiles towards her, apparently deciding to blast away her cover instead of forcing their missiles to track around it.  The hull fractured under the barrage, one lucky missile soaring through a breach and detonating, rattling the Phoenix as it tried to dodge.  Although the primary explosion did not manage to catch her, shrapnel from the torn ancient hull blasted up towards her Ryder, punching into the Phoenix’s armor and setting off alarms of consternation.  Icari would have cursed, but a sudden flash of light punched a Ryder sized crater into the hull immediately to her right.  “Damn!” Icari threw the Phoenix to the side, straining against the acceleration, as two other shots landed where her Ryder had been a half-second earlier.  “I’m getting pinned out here!  Captain!  Do something!” she yelled in frustration.

“Black Jack! Come in from the other side and flank them,” ordered Kayto.  “Make for that shipwreck, use it for cover and lay some fire down for the Phoenix.”

“Roger that, Capt’n!  Hang in there Phoenix!”  Asaga gunned the Black Jack forward getting alarmingly close to a Ryuvian ship.  Ignoring it, she passed behind the ancient wreck Kayto had indicated and let loose with her entire complement of seeker missiles.  The weapons streaked towards the three Ryders pinning Icari, landing multiple hits on the one closest to Black Jack.  “Damn, that’s one tough Ryder!” grumbled Asaga as the targeted Ryder emerged from the firestorm damaged but alive.  Switching to her pulse cannons, Asaga fired a stream of pulse lasers at the Ryders, taking down the wounded one and damaging the center Ryder.

Taking advantage of the sudden reprieve, Phoenix pushed its engines to the max once again, breaking from cover and driving straight up to rightmost Ryuvian Ryder, spinning into a barrel roll as Icari dodged yet another shot from its unusual rifle.  At close quarters, however, the Ryuvian Ryder’s weapon actually became cumbersome and Icari grinned as she saw the Ryder’s pilot struggled to bring the gun’s barrel to bear.  Sidestepping the long weapon, Icari slashed with her anti-Ryder blades, catching the lightly armored and sluggish Ryder in a series of rapid strikes that tore apart the semisolid hologram.

“All ahead full!” ordered Kayto in the CIC of the Sunrider.  “Take out the last Ryder as soon as we get in range.”

Sunrider’s engines glowed a powerful blue as they pushed the ship towards the remaining Ryuvian forces.

“Fire all Hell Dart Missiles!” shouted Ava as Sunrider drew close enough for her targeting computers to calculate a firing solution for the missiles.  The missiles streaked towards the final Ryder, blasting past the Ryuvian ships, whose flak cannons had apparently deactivated over the millenia drifting in space.  The missiles struck true, detonating on the Ryder’s frame, leaving no trace as the explosions faded.

“Fire the Saviors!” ordered Kayto.  “All Ryders, coordinate with Sunrider and concentrate fire!  Give them everything we’ve got!”

Sunrider’s deck guns flashed firing salvo after salvo at the Ryuvian cruisers as Phoenix and Black Jack drove in from the sides, pelting their lateral hull with laser and autocannon fire. The Ryuvian ships continued to launch missiles as fast as their internal reloading mechanisms would allow, but Chigara and Claude’s combined electronic interference significantly hampered their effectiveness and ability to launch.  Of the missiles that cleared their tubes, most were intercepted at range by Black Jack and Phoenix’s flak cannons or dodged, although one or two managed to slip past, inflicting more than their fair share of damage to the increasingly beleaguered Ryders.

Finally, after a frantic and all out slugfest, Sunrider and her Ryder wing stood victorious, having overwhelmed their technologically superior foe with overwhelming firepower and sheer, bloody luck.

“Was that all of them?” asked Kayto wearily, mopping the sweat off his brow.

“Looks like sensors are clear…” said Ava, uncertainly, checking the readings for the third time, no longer willing to take anything for granted in the ship graveyard.

“Uh-oh!  Negative, Captain!” Asaga called over her channel.  “We’ve still got one Ryuvian Ryder!  All three of the other ones were decoys!”

“Take it out!” shouted Kayto, completely taken aback.

The Ryuvian Ryder had managed to evade their sensor nets and slip past Sunrider to their rear.  In slow motion, Kayto saw the Ryder level its weapon at Liberty, taking careful aim so as to ensure a hit.

“Chigara!” yelled Kayto.  At that range, Liberty would almost certainly be hit by the mysterious weapon.  Pounding his arm rest, Kayto cursed; Liberty’s electronic warfare suite had consumed all of the Ryder’s energy to suppress the Ryuvian ships, leaving it completely vulnerable to the other Ryder’s counter attack.

“Argh!  As if…!” Asaga’s strained voice yelled as the Black Jack dove across the Ryuvian Ryder’s line of fire with impossible speed.  Using the flat of its anti-Ryder melee blade, Black Jack deflected the shot, slapping it aside.

“A-Asaga!” Chigara yelped in surprise.

“I-impossible!  Are you kidding me?  That shot was traveling almost at the speed of light!  T-there’s no way in hell…” Icari stuttered, unable to believe her eyes.

“Captain… how did she…?” whispered Ava in the CIC, eyes wide.

“Doesn’t matter!  Black Jack, take the enemy out now!” barked Kayto.

Turning to face the enemy Ryder, Black Jack’s energy beam deployed as well.  Rear engines thrumming with power, Asaga accelerated towards the Ryuvian Ryder before it could squeeze in another shot.

Completely unexpectedly, however, the enemy Ryder lowered its rifle and bowed its head before dropping into an unmistakable kneel, clearly surrendering.  Black Jack slowed as Asaga’s eyes widened in surprise.  Still pointing her weapons at the Ryuvian Ryder, Asaga hailed the Ryvian pilot on an open channel and patched the Sunrider in.

The silver haired woman they had seen earlier floating in the stasis tank aboard the super-dreadnought materialized, although she was now wearing stark white Ryder armor.  The most striking thing about her, however, was that her eyes were disconcertingly mismatched.  One iris appeared to be her normal amber while the other glowed with an unnatural blue-green, the same color as the Ryuvian warships.

“Are… you…?”  The Ryuvian’s voice was soft and flat, devoid of emotions and unnecessary inflection.  Although her accent was exotic, her Standard was fully understandable; impressive given the linguistic drift of two thousand years.  “There is only one capable of fighting like that.  Impossible… There cannot be another.  Yet… I… am alive?”

“You’re not makin’ any sense!  Say something useful!” snapped Asaga, still pointing her swords at the motionless Ryuvian Ryder.

“Enough.” The blueish glow from the woman’s eye faded, revealing a matching amber iris underneath. “I yield; this match has been decided.”

“Captain, that Ryuvian Ryder just powered down completely!” said Ava, surprised.  On screen, the white and blue Ryder’s lights abruptly cut out, leaving it still and cold as the rest of the dead ships in the abyss.

“Hey, we might want to get a move on,” Icari’s voice cut in over the comms.  “Phoenix is detecting multiple energy spikes at the edge of sensor range; I think we’ve got more Ryuvian ships coming in for us!”

“Captain!” Chigara sounded alarmed, “Liberty’s reading massive energy spikes from the super-dreadnought!  I-it’s trying to power up its main weapon!”

Kayto’s face drained.  If the ship graveyard was any indication, Chigara’s readings were extremely bad news for the Sunrider.  “All Ryders, return to base.  Asaga, tow that Ryder in with you!  All hands, prepare for emergency warp on my mark!  Spool up our drives!”

“Power starting to fluctuate,” reported Chigara anxiously, keeping one eye on the erratic sensor data while accelerating Liberty towards the waiting Sunrider.  “Core instability detected… at this rate… Captain!  That weapon isn’t going to fire; the ship’s going to blow up!  We need to get out of here now!”

“Damn!” Kayto punched a series of commands into his console.  “All Ryders, initiate emergency landing procedures!”

Sunrider’s aft armor shifted as she opened her rear for the emergency landing protocol, turning the entire hanger deck into one long runway for the incoming Ryders.  Such measures were extreme, risking severe damage to both the Ryders and the ship itself if any errors were made.  Coming in from all vectors, Sunrider’s Ryders blasted under her engines and into the hanger deck at full speed, spinning  a full one hundred eighty degrees as they cleared the outer hull, pushing their thrusters to the maximum.  The punishing change in acceleration shook their Ryder frames and crushed the pilots into their crash seats, all of them on the cusp of blacking out as magnetic tethers latched onto the Ryders, bleeding additional momentum out of their trajectory.  One at a time, the Ryders skidded to a halt, sparks flying as their feet made contact with the Sunrider’s deck, leaving long, metal-on-metal skid marks before coming to a grinding halt.

Black Jack was the last Ryder to clear the outer hull, having dragged the captive Ryuvian Ryder and tossed it in ahead of itself unceremoniously.  “Captain!  We all clear!” grunted Asaga, struggling to speak as Black Jack began its sudden deceleration.

“Seal the hanger deck!  Go to emergency warp as soon as the door locks!” yelled Kayto, watching in horror as the massive super-dreadnought lit up with energy.  Massive electrical arcs rippled through the entire superstructure, punching massive holes in its hull and racing up towards the command deck.  As they reached the ship’s flared end, the entire super-dreadnought’s blue glow became painful to look at, intensifying hellishly.  “Go, go, go!”

Multiple explosions broke out on the ancient Ryuvian super-dreadnought, setting its entire hull on fire before its primary reactor chained, breaking free of its controlled reaction and consuming all its remaining fuel in a single, brilliant nova.  The entire ship was consumed as a massive blue ball of plasma blasted outwards, momentarily birthing a new star in the Abyss.  Radiating outwards, the explosion slammed into the ancient shipwrecks, consuming them eagerly as it raged towards the Sunrider.  With a hellish storm of searing plasma rushing at her, Sunrider’s warp drives teased apart space and time, pushing the ship to the safety of another dimension a millisecond before it was too late.

“Hull temperature critical!” shouted Ava as the Sunrider shook angrily, having transitioned into warp travel with a minimum level of safety.  “Dropping now… we’re clear, Captain!  Warp successful, all sections reporting green.”

Kayto sighed explosively.  “That was too close… way too close.  Stand down Red Alert”

The CIC returned to normal lighting as an all clear signal sounded through Sunrider.

“Captain, looks like the girls have taken the Ryuvian into custody down in the hanger.  Shall I have security escort her to the brig?” asked Ava, fielding a report from the hanger deck.

“Negative,” Kayto rose from his seat.  “Let’s go down there and meet her ourselves before we decide anything.  After all, she’s our only real hope of finding out what really happened back there.”

Chapter 13 >>>>