Chapter 10- Skirmish at Tautenia

The Nomodorm Corridor was one of the many uncharted territories in the outlying rim of the galaxy.  Likely, the region had once been part of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, but, as with so many other things, almost everything had been forgotten about it.  A vast nebula primarily composed of infant stars, the Nomodorm Corridor was of relatively low interest for colonization efforts, as most planets were bathed in prohibitive radiation levels.  Despite the inhospitable conditions, several dark planets did eke out a living in the unforgiving environment.

Dark planet was a term given to any human planet or outpost which had regressed to a pre-warp society after the fall of the Holy Ryuvian Empire.  Many historians pointed to their existence as evidence that the Holy Ryuvian Empire practically fell apart overnight, stranding untold numbers of colonists on underdeveloped words and severing others, dependent on interstellar trade to maintain their standard of living and technology, from all contact.  Not every world recovered from those circumstances; abandoned or dead cities were not an uncommon finding on inhospitable worlds.  More than one dark planet had been discovered to have given rise to nascent human civilizations that had forgotten entirely that their ancestors once sailed between the stars while others, like Versta, remained locked in perpetual violence, strife, and civil war.  Although a number of dark worlds had been relieved with humanitarian aid and re-established contact with the greater galactic society, the majority were simply too out of the way or unimportant for galactic powers to invest the time and finances required to cultivate a sustainable transition back to the galactic fold.

“Warp complete, Captain.  Sunrider has transitioned back to normal space; we’ve arrived at the Nomodorn Corridor,” announced Ava as the main screen activated, showing the crew a bright, crescent shaped nebula dotted with proto-stars as the interstellar gas condensed in the stellar nursery.  Out here, the crew was truly in the middle of nowhere, far from anything that could be called civilization, the realm of gamblers, treasure and adventure seekers, and, of course, pirates.

“Any idea where to start?” asked Kayto, looking at the starmap with distaste.  King Jalor’s idea of a lead did not amount to much as nothing on the map of the corridor announced itself as possible hiding place of one of Ryuvia’s greatest treasures.  “This is going to be like looking for a needle in a haystack…” he muttered, considering calling off the mission entirely.  No matter the reward, nothing was worth the possibility of having Sunrider comb through the Nomodorm Corridor systematically.

“Looks like the nearest planet is… Tautenia,” said Ava, consulting her own map.  “Nothing we would call civilization… it’s a dark planet locked in war and unrest.  At least it should be safe to take a look; they’re barely capable of even leaving the surface according to the last survey logged in the database six years ago.  Doesn’t seem like their space force poses much of a threat, even if they were to react badly to our presence.”

“All right, set a course,” agreed Kayto.  “Keep our pilots on standby though, I don’t want any surprises this time around.”

“Aye, Sir…” Ava squinted at a new signal on the scanners.  “Scratch that!  Detecting multiple pirate signals!

“Red Alert!  All hands to battle stations!” ordered Kayto, rubbing his brow.  Why couldn’t the Sunrider ever go anywhere nice?  “Launch our Ryders on the double!”

“Ryders launching!” Asaga’s voice called out as the Ryder pilots deployed from Sunrider simultaneously.

“Incoming distress beacon, Captain!” Ava announced.  “A civilian ship appears to be requesting assistance.”

“A Tautenian ship?” asked Kayto, curious.

“Negative… she’s a civilian transport registered with the Alliance.  Designation… Mochi?” Ava wrinkled her nose in distaste at the cute name.

“Looks like a rescue mission then,” remarked Kayto.  “Engines all ahead full, put me through to our Ryders!  Attention all Ryders, the pirates are targeting a civilian transport, you have permission to engage in rescue operations, weapons free on the pirates.”

“Roger that, Capt’n!” Asaga confirmed as wing leader, “We’ll keep those civilians safe.”

“Captain; our Ryders can go ahead to cover the Mochi, but that will leave the Sunrider vulnerable.  What are your orders?” asked Ava.

“Have the Ryders go on ahead, we’ll catch up as quickly as we can.  The priority is assisting the civilian transport!” ordered Kayto.  “Give me an open channel to the civilian ship.  Attention civilian ship Mochi, standby for assistance, we are on your six.  Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to engage the pirates.”

On screen, Sunrider’s three Ryders opened their throttles, jetting forward in a V formation towards the Mochi, a standard civilian ship that was essentially a rectangular cargo bay with engines and living modules.

“Captain!  Telemetry from the Ryders indicates a custom Ryder directing pirate activities; it’s the Havok!  We’re being hailed now,” reported Ava.

“Cosette?  Fancy that, put her on,” Kayto smiled grimly.  Although the odds were incredible, it seemed like fate had brought the two for yet another head-on meeting.  Now 0-2 against the Sunrider, the pirate leader would undoubtedly be looking for more than just payback.

“Well, well…” Cosette’s small frame materialized from her transmission, her eyes alight with barely contained fury.  “My favorite Captain.  I didn’t expect you to come looking for a painful death, but my boys and I would be happy to oblige.”

Kayto inclined his head sarcastically.  “Our favorite space pirate.  Still skimping on the milk?”

“G-gurk!”  Cosette’s fury broke free, lending her eyes a wild, insane look.  “You’ve interfered with my plans for the last time, Captain.  You military pricks always look down on us, but things are different out here in uncharted space.  Out here, our word is law.  It’s time you learned that lesson.  KILL HIM!”  Cosette screamed the last two words to her forces, simulated spittle flying.

“Captain,” Icari’s voice was tense, “Civilian transport has been boxed in by enemy Ryders; they’re all over it!  Requesting permission to break formation and provide immediate assistance!”

Looking at the tactical screen, Kayto could see that she was right; the Mochi was surrounded on all side by pirate craft as they attempted to block its escape and corral it.  Directly in front, six Ryders were spread forming a cordon while two pirate destroyers and two escort Ryders flanked the transport from behind.  If they didn’t move quickly, the pirates would move in for the kill, disabling the transport’s engines and limiting their rescue options.  “Granted,” Kayto said.  “Take out the pirate Ryder at two o’clock and fall back into formation; we’re going to need flak cover to keep them from picking us off one at a time.  Liberty, see what you can do about Havok!”

“Yes Sir!  Going dark now!” Icari said as Phoenix activated its sensor scrambling adaptive armor.  Thrusters opening wide, the Phoenix flew straight at the pirate Ryder, taking advantage of its difficulty drawing a bead on the stealthed Ryder to get in close.  Before anyone could even blink an eye, two long anti-Ryder blades had appeared from the Phoenix’s armatures.  Too late, the Ryder pirate tried to raise its shield, caught off guard by the melee combat tactics of his opponent.  Icari’s blades sliced cleanly through the pirate Ryder, delivering two clean thrusts to the pirate Ryder; one blade into its pilot cabin, the other into the Ryder’s fusion reactor.  It was impossible to say whether the decompression into vacuum or exploding reactor claimed the pirate’s life first, but the results were unequivocal.  “Enemy Ryder down, reversing thrust,” said Icari as the Phoenix pulled a hairpin turn and pulled back slightly as Asaga and the Liberty moved into covering positions on her flank.

“Fire missiles at two o’clock destroyer!”  ordered Kayto as Phoenix cleared Sunrider’s line of fire.

“Aye Sir, firing solution achieved, Hell Darts away!” answered Ava.  “Impacts!  Catastrophic damage to enemy ship!”

On the main screen, the stricken pirate destroyer belched fire and atmosphere from a dozen rends in its hull, just barely holding itself together.

“I got this!” Asaga chimed in.  “Weapons free!”

Pumping away with her pulse lasers, Asaga finished off the destroyer, her lasers stripping away what was left of the ship’s hull integrity and cutting it into pieces.  Pivoting, Black Jack turned its guns on the other flank, landing a few potshots on the unsuspecting pirate Ryder.

Taking Cosette’s orders to heart, the remaining pirates mustered an enthusiastic counterattack, opening fire with two missile salvos from heavily modified surplus bomber Ryders.  Havok, however, had notably fallen silent, drifting in space, disabled by Chigara’s electronic warfare.

“Evasive maneuvers!” warned Kayto as the missiles streaked towards the Phoenix.  To make matters worse, all three remaining pirate infantry Ryders opened fire with their laser rifles, intending to catch the Phoenix in a deadly crossfire of laser fire and missile bombardment; surprisingly complex coordination for your run-of-the-mill pirate group.

“Watch and learn!” Icari’s voice came over the comm channel, cocky.  Phoenix tumbled to the side, spinning as her pilot locked her into a dizzying barrel roll.  Taking full advantage of her unbelievable thrust power and maneuverability as well as the Phoenix’s light frame, Icari pushed her Ryder to its limits, one moment accelerating, the next shooting off in a completely different vector.  The gee-forces on board her Ryder must have been torturous, but Icari did not so much as grunt as the Phoenix engaged in a series of punishing stunts neither Kayto nor any of the other Ryder pilots or crew had ever seen a sane pilot attempt.

“Holy Ryuvia…” muttered Kayto.  “Sunrider, cover our Ryders.  Engines ahead full, fire at pirate destroyer with our Saviors!”

Sunrider bulled forward, bringing up the rear of its Ryder formation, before letting loose with her deck guns, pounding the remaining pirate destroyer within an inch of its life as it took a wild shot at the Phoenix with its own deck guns, missing miserably.

“OK, she’s got some skill,” muttered Asaga grudgingly as Icari’s Ryder looped back into formation, having dodged simultaneous fire from five separate pirate Ryders and a ship without so much as a scratch on Phoenix’s yellow paint.  Perhaps in a show of competition, Black Jack took advantage of the distraction Phoenix was causing to nail one of the pirate infantry Ryders forming the cordon in front of the Mochi with pulsed laser fire, killing it with two well aimed bursts.

“I’m not done yet!” Icari’s voice was somewhat breathless as she recovered from the impressive acrobatics.  In a perfect position to fire, the Phoenix let loose with both of the double barreled autocannons mounted onto each armature, sending a stream of automatic fire rattling towards the remaining pirate Ryder.  The green Ryder shook wildly as bullets punched through its damaged frame.  On fire, the Ryder spiraled out of control before slamming into the crippled destroyer, finishing the job Sunrider had started.

Kayto looked at the tactical screen pleased with their progress.  Together, the Ryder pilots and Sunrider had completely overwhelmed the pirate’s flanks, freeing the Mochi.  All that remained was to advance against the woefully outclassed pirate Ryders, practically helpless with the Havok crippled, and end the skirmish.

“…-ot so fast!” Cosette’s avatar re-appeared, garbled and distorted through the seizure her Ryder’s electronic systems were having as though she could read his thoughts.  “It’s not going to be that easy, Captain.  We’ve got our friends from the PACT here today!”

“Alert!” Ava cried, “Multiple PACT signatures incoming; they have us surrounded!”

The blood red hulls of PACT ships and Ryders appeared on their screen as the PACT reinforcements entered sensor range of the Sunrider, boxing in their formation.  Two missile cruisers drifted forward, one on each flank, each accompanied by one infantry and one bomber class Ryder and pointing their missile tubes towards the Sunrider menacingly.  Behind the Havok, two additional PACT cruisers accelerated into the AO, guns charged.

“Working for those scumbags now?” Kayto glared at Cosette.  “It figures, they say birds of a feather flock together.”

“BWAHAHAHA!” a blubbering laugh come over the open communications channel.  Unappetizing smacking sounds followed as a potbellied man with thinning orange hair and a matching orange mustache appeared, wiping his fingers on the elaborate robe that designated his status as a Veniczar.  Smearing sauce and grease on the tightly stretched garment, the Veniczar peered at Kayto’s image with small, watery blue eyes with distaste, his jowls and dewlap bumping each other has he sneered.  “What have we here?  Ignorant peasant; watch your tone in the presence of the mighty Veniczar B. Cullen!  My glorious fleets and I are here to bring enlightenment to vermin like you and unite your poverty-stricken worlds under the glory of the PACT empire.  Rejoice, for you will bear witness to our New Galactic Order!”

“You know, that all sounded great up until the part where the PACT decided to bombard millions of civilians from space,” spat Kayto.  “Where does that fit in with your unification plan?”

“Bah!” Cullen, waved his hand dismissively.  “A wretched Neutral Rim worm like you would never understand the necessities of war.  I tire of your drivel; prepare to be put down by my forces, dog.”

“So much for Common Treatment,” he remarked to Ava with half a smile as she groaned at his attempt at humor.  “Looks like Veniczar Porkchops means business…”  Studying the tactical screen grimly, Kayto had no choice but to consider a tactical retreat; the PACT ships had the advantage of both position and firepower.  If Sunrider could break out, however, they might be able to clear a path for the Mochi and perform an emergency jump as well.

“Captain!” Ava’s voice interrupted his thoughts.  “I’m detecting a power surge on the Mochi!  Something’s going on…”

Warily, Kayto eyed the Mochi on screen.  Emboldened by their PACT reinforcements, the pirates began to let loose with their laser rifles, scoring deep rends in the thinly armored vessel.  At the same time, Mochi’s main cargo bay opened revealing…

“Is that… a pink Ryder?” Kayto wondered out loud as the main screen magnified.  “Patch me through to it.”

Bubble gum pink with a monocular head, one of the strangest Ryders any of them had ever seen launched itself free of the Mochi before the entire ship blew up from a lucky pirate laser hit.  The unusual Ryder ambled forward, apparently unconcerned over the loss of its mother ship.  Its frame was clearly a custom job, paint aside; supplementary solar panels on its shoulders augmented its power supply and a large antenna stuck out of its back.  For weapons, the Ryder appeared to have some kind of kinetic slug launcher on its right armature and a highly unusual device with no obvious discernible function on its left, presumably also a weapon of some sort.

“This is Captain Kayto Shields of the Sunrider speaking to unidentified Alliance Ryder.  State your intentions.”

“Oohh, Captain~” a dreamy, almost vague, voice drifted over the communications channel as the speaker resolved on deck.  A woman with long pink hair and violet eyes appeared, twirling a lock of her fair hair between her fingers happily.  Wearing a Ryder suit of the same shade of pink as her Ryder, she struck a girlish pose and winked at him much to Ava’s displeasure.  “Claude Triello.  I was delivering medical supplies to Tautenia when I got attacked by those pirates.  I think I could use a hand with them…”

Kayto nodded seriously.  The additional Ryder would, possibly, just barely even the odds with the PACT reinforcements.  “Copy that, Ms. Triello,” he said as Claude giggled flirtatiously, grossly at odds with the seriousness of their situation.  “Sunrider is at your service.  Let’s get those bogies off of you.”

“Thank you, Captain~!” gushed Claude in a sing-song voice.  “Bianca firing… oops!”  Claude’s Ryder, Bianca, pointed the gun on its right armature at the nearest pirate Ryder, letting loose with a blast from the scatter gun.  Multiple kinetic pellets fired from the muzzle, shredding the Ryder’s thin frame and hitting everything but the pilot compartment or reactor.  Ava dropped her face into her hands as Bianca flew backwards, tumbling end over end from the recoil.  “Looks like I forgot to turn on the auto-compensatory thrusters,” Claude said, turning green as she stopped the tumble, ending up “upside-down” relative to the Sunrider and the other Ryders.  Although the lack of “up” or “down” in space meant pilots had no reason to orient on any particular plane, millions of years of evolution on a planet’s surface had left humanity with a strong bias to default to a standard frame of reference while piloting in space.

“Ryders, give the pink Ryder covering fire!  Sunrider will take out some of the PACT’s missile launchers at extreme range.” ordered Kayto.  As Phoenix and Black Jack poured fire into the remaining pirates with Liberty continuing to subvert the Havok, Sunrider fired her Saviors at range, bombarding the nearest PACT missile frigate and a nearby PACT bomber.  Capable of launching swarms of seeking, self-guided missiles at extreme ranges, their destruction was a priority before Sunrider and her Ryders were penned in from all sides to avoid any overwhelming assault on their flak defenses.  The kinetic slugs streaked forward, on target, slamming into both targets with satisfying explosions.  Although they made for small targets, both the PACT frigate and bomber were lightly armored and filled with explosives; an unhealthy combination for even a single Savior slug to discover.

Zipping forward, the Phoenix’s stealth systems activated, allowing it to close in and deliver two deadly strikes to one of the depleted pirate bombers, cleaving the Ryder cleanly into three pieces.  The remaining pirate bomber panicked, pushing its engines into full retreat as it made for a beeline towards the advancing PACT cruisers.  Rather than risking a pursuit that would open her to fire from the PACT cruisers, Icari throttled back, narrowly avoiding a missile as it flew over the Phoenix’s shoulder.

“Shit!” Icari threw the Phoenix into a reflexive dive, pulling up harshly, gritting her teeth and bracing her abs as she pulled out with a hairpin turn, the punishing gee-force of the acceleration making the Phoenix’s frame groan slightly.  Additional missiles from the PACT frigate and its bomber escort streaked past her Ryder harmlessly, unable to keep up with the Phoenix’s maneuvers.  For every missile dodged, however, another two seemed to join the fray.  A bead of sweat trickled down Icari’s temple as she continued to twist and dodge.

“Icari!  We’re on your six!” shouted Kayto, seeing the Phoenix’s plight.  “Come back at us; we’ll provide cover fire!”

“Copy that,” Icari’s voice was cold and brittle.  The Phoenix rocketed towards Sunrider and Black Jack, pelting between the two as a dozen missiles tailed her brilliant exhaust trail.

“Fire flak cannons!”

Sunrider and Black Jack opened fire with their point defense guns, trapping the missile volley in a cross fire of flak rounds, shredding and detonating them harmlessly.

“Sensors read clear,” reported Ava, “All missiles neutralized!”

“Tsch… I could have handled it… Thanks for the assist anyways,” Icari said dismissively over the comms.

“You could return the favor by handling our right flank,” answered Kayto.  “Keep those PACT Ryders off us, Sunrider will take out the last missile frigate.  Black Jack, I want the left flank neutralized.”

“Acknowledged, Captain.”

Phoenix and Black Jack took off in opposite directions, their formation scattering.  Black Jack leveled its machine gun at a PACT infantry Ryder that was the sole survivor of the forces sent to box in the Sunrider from the left.  The Ryder went down in a hailstorm of bullets and laser fire, but managed to let loose with a burst from its own laser rifle, scoring damage to Sunrider’s external armor before being put down permanently.  On the right, the Phoenix streaked past the accelerating Sunrider, aiming straight for the PACT infantry Ryder closest to it.  The PACT pilot panicked, having seen what the Phoenix’s blades could do at close range.  Firing wildly, the PACT infantry Ryder discharged its laser rifle at maximum recycle rate, missing the Phoenix twice before it flashed past, cleaving the PACT Ryder asunder without even looking back.

“Fire Saviors!” Kayto ordered as the Sunrider found range on the missile frigate.  On screen, the smaller ship took a slug to its prow from the side, spinning the tiny frigate like a toy in a bathtub.  The rotational stress proved too much for its fragile hull, literally spinning the ship apart, although it’s crew had likely been pulped against the walls of their own ship before atmosphere was ever compromised.

“Energy spike from PACT cruisers detected, Captain!” cried Ava, “They’re firing!”

“Hard to port!” barked Kayto.

Sunrider’s CIC pitched, knocking everyone into their right armrest as the massive ship fired lateral starboard thrusters.  Anti-ship lasers from the PACT cruisers licked past Sunrider’s hull, narrowly grazing the ship, but failing to inflict any damage as they streaked on harmlessly into the night of space.

Phoenix, however, was not quite as fortunate.  Apparently having exhausted her luck, Icari’s Ryder took a laser rifle burst straight to its right “wing,” the delicate thruster and maneuvering device deforming and melting under the laser fire.  “You’ll pay for that!” screamed Icari, incensed as she switched to primary drives only, reducing the Phoenix’s dodging capabilities, but stabilizing the wounded machine.  As the PACT bomber’s laser rifle tried to cool desperately, the Phoenix used its available thrusters to close distance, exacting a punishing and personal revenge for the damage inflicted.  Delivering two cuts and severing the PACT bomber’s arms, Icari’s Ryder proceeded to lop off system after system, the stricken PACT Ryder unable to do much more than flail under her assault.  With a final stroke, she stabbed the miraculously intact fusion core, breaking containment and turning the enemy Ryder into an exploding ball of plasma before its pilot could even complete their eject sequence.

“Icari!  Are you-”

“Worry about yourself!” Icari’s nettled voice barely covering the sound of her tooth gnashing as Phoenix rejoined their formation.

Smirking, Kayto shook his head without rancor.  “OK, people, let’s wrap this up.  Target lead PACT cruiser, fire Saviors at will.”

Either it was due to a lack in their commanding officers’ experience or a mark of the PACT’s willingness to sacrifice any number of ships to their goal, but the two remaining PACT cruisers accelerated towards the Sunrider, determined to land a shot the second time.  Savior slugs punched through the lead cruiser’s armor, mortally wounding the ship before Black Jack finished her off with a burst from its assault cannons.

Heedless, the final PACT cruiser shoved past its dying sister ship’s flaming hull, lateral laser banks alight with fury.  Additional Savior slugs landed on her hull, their precision even more deadly having refined their firing solutions from the last two salvos.

“I got this one Captain,” Claude’s dreamy voice drifted over their battlenet.  The scatter gun on her Ryder pumping a new shell into its chamber, Bianca pointed her ridiculous pink shotgun at the last PACT cruiser.  Fire flashed from the cut down muzzle of Claude’s Ryder, blasting gaping wounds into the PACT cruiser and dispatching it ignominiously.

“Let’s take the Havok out!” shouted Asaga, pushing the Black Jack forward as fast as it would go and letting loose with her missiles.

“Got it!” answered Icari, manuevering the Phoenix so as to attack the Havok with a pincer formation with Black Jack.

Black Jack’s missiles smashed into the Havok, shearing through armored plate and physically crippling the stricken Ryder, still virtually shut down from Chigara’s electronic interference.

In her cockpit, Cosette screamed and pounded her non-responsive controls with all the fury of a cornered animal.  “DAMN IT!!!”  Multiple screens began flashing red error alerts as Phoenix’s blades began hacking into the Havok.  “Cosette Cosmos, authentication ID Whiskey Nine-Nine, shut down all automated systems, override all safeties, give me full analog and manual!” she screamed.  The Havok complied, shutting down all electronic Ryder assistance and granting its pilot full manual analog control over its crippled systems.  Ordinarily, such a move would be suicidal, a human pilot only being able to control the Ryder clumsily without the myriad of electronic subsystems handling the fickle details of Ryder control and propulsion.  With her Ryder’s computers completely overridden by Chigara’s corrupting code, however, her only choice for survival, like on so many other occasions, was a near suicidal gamble.  Alarms blaring, Cosette hit the Havok’s remaining thrusters, giving thanks that the machine’s one true advantage against other Ryders was its ridiculously redundant and hardened systems, emblematic of the harsh reality of pirate life.  Overruling any reasonable safety concern and pushing the Havok’s drive beyond red-line, she turned tail and gunned towards the safety of darkness, leaving Sunrider and her Ryders behind.

“Your days are numbered, Captain… just you wait,” she growled as a parting shot.  “Now that the PACT has beef against you, you’ll never escape what you deserve, and I’ll be there on that day to see it done…”

“This is Phoenix, laying in pursuit course!” called in Icari.

“Negative!” Kayto overruled her. “You’re already at maximum operational range; if you go after her, you won’t have the fuel to get back.  We have no idea if there’s anyone out there waiting to ambush a Ryder out of gas.”

“But, Captain!” Icari protested.

“That’s an order, Icari,” Kayto sternly reinforced.  “Let her go and return to home base.”

“Roger that…” Icari sighed, remembering her pledge and acquiescing.  Lingering for a moment and staring at the retreating flame of the Havok, Icari pulled her Ryder about and pushed off towards the welcoming lights of Sunrider.  “Phoenix, returning to base.”

“Interesting…” Ava turned to Kayto in surprise, some distant relative of respect in her eyes.  “I never thought I’d see the day you laid down the law in our little dysfunctional family.”

“A mother and father should share parenting responsibilities,” joked Kayto self-righteously.  “A dysfunctional family, huh?  I kind of like that.”

Ava’s cheeks turned a little pink, “W-well hold onto your judgment for now.  Looks like we’ve picked ourselves up another stray…  The pink Ryder seems to be inviting herself on board; she’s locked in on an approach vector with the rest of our Ryders.”

“That’s fine, give her docking permission,” Kayto said, overlooking the lapse in standard protocol or courtesy.  “Maybe let the autopilot handle it…” he added, remembering Claude’s disastrous initial attempt at piloting and firing her Ryder’s weapons.

“Acknowledged, Captain,” answered Ava.  “Incoming transmission; it’s the PACT.”

“Ahh… the good Veniczar.  Let’s hear what he has to say.”

“You fools!” bellowed the Veniczar, clearly unaware he was already on open comms.  “How could you let yourselves be defeated by a single ship?  We had those peasants outnumbered three to one!”

“Hardly the gracious behavior of a commanding officer,” pointed out Kayto scathingly. “It’s no wonder your forces fight without vigor if you raise their morale like that on a regular basis.  You might want to think about that next time we meet, Veniczar Porkchops.”

“You!” Veniczar Cullen’s face turned a livid purple as he faced Kayto.  “I-I will not stand to be mocked and insulted like that!  Mark my words!  You will regret crossing the path of Veniczar B. Cullen, Captain.  The next time we meet, you will know your place.”  Giving one last hiss and heaving his bulk back to his command chair, he spoke to his own bridge crew.  “Spool up our drives and get us out of this pathetic barbarian pit… and cut the damn communications channel!”

Leaning back in his Captain’s seat, Kayto gave Ava a manic grin as she shook her head, resigned.  “Confirming multiple warp signatures at edge of sensor range; all enemy forces falling back.  Captain, why do you have to make mortal enemies out of everyone we meet?”

“I guess it’s just my winning personality.  Come on,” Kayto hopped up and motioned for her to join.  “Let’s go meet our uninvited guest…”

CHAPTER 11 >>>>