breathing in a vacuum
part seven
      Nina could tell exactly when he entered the room by the prickling of her neck hair. She looked up from her work, wiping the grit from her eyes as she saw Alpha walk around one of the lab tables. She glared at him, not bothering to hide the pain and hate in her eyes.
      She couldn't help but feel fear as he approached, towering over her. She hated every part of him, from his pale purple face to his towering body to the cloak that he wore constantly. He was a normal looking Zentradi male, his skin too pale and his body too lean to match the phenotype exactly, but Nina's research had shown her a plethora of phenotypic variations on the Zentradi norm. She hated him because he was bastardizing her work, her revenge.
      "It seems work has been slow," he said in his even voice, glancing down at her through the tuft of black hair that sprouted from his head.
      "You did kill my lab assistant," she replied, trying to keep the fear from her voice. The other aliens fear him, she thought, so what choice do I have.
      "Dr. Williams, I'm sure you've realized your purpose here. This is no pleasure cruise through deep space," he said, twisting his mouth in to a vicious grin. "If you can't fulfill your responsibilities then I'm afraid I'll have to find something else for you to do," he added, glancing up and down her body.
      Nina Williams forced down revulsion at the threat, and failed. She looked down at the deck, close to physically ill.
      "Don't worry Dr. Williams," Alpha said after a moment. "Simply finish your work. I want it done within a week. Then I'll kill you quickly and painlessly. The alternatives are much, much less attractive." He reached out, grabbing the Doctor's chin between two fingers.
      "And if you try any tricks…" he said, letting the statement hang. He placed his hand down on one of the benches, glancing at the papers and readouts that covered it. Then he turned and walked out of the lab, leaving Nina to her fear.

      "So how do you like him, Sakura-chan?" her father asked from across the dinner table. Sakura glanced up from the bowl of pasta her father insisted on preparing for her on 'their night.'
      "He's great," she told him, feeling as if she was somehow betraying Dan. "I haven't had more fun at home in years."
      Her father smiled, pushing his glasses up on his face. Mamoru, he thought, you are a lucky man to have such a great daughter. "I'm sorry you got surprised by this whole thing," he told her, "but I couldn't convince your mother to break off the silly engagement. I know it seems strange, but…" He really couldn't think of anything to object with.
      "Don't worry. Its not like I'm going to go through with it. I feel honored to have made a friend out of Mokoto Mizuhara." But she had no confidence in the words. "How's the manga coming?" she said, knowing her father couldn't help but fall for the change in topics.
      "Great! I've finally managed to get the publishers to print the final hardback edition and I'm starting a new strip in Jump."
      Sakura grinned as her dad continued to expound on the nature of modern manga. He seems like such a child, she thought, exactly the opposite of Mom. Or Dan. Sakura glanced out the window, subconsciously looking for Jupiter. In the sunlight, she could make out no trace of the great planet, or anything besides the pale blue sky. Be safe, Dan. We really need to talk.

      The bridge of the Damocles was almost silent as the pods and armors converged on her. Jonah glanced towards the holotank, marking the locations of the aliens in his mind. His hand was poised in the air, ready to signal the firing.
      The Damocles still appeared to be a bulk freighter, a lumbering target for anything with a gun. But deep inside her Reflex furnaces, power began trickling out, charging the guns, readying the sensors and preparing to launch the Shrikes hidden in her hull. The baffles that covered her hull were ready to instantaneously retract, unleashing the full power of her 30 point defense turrets on the approaching battle pods.
      "Able and Bravo loaded and ready," Wesley reported from Tac Com.
      "Passive firing solutions on board," the young woman at gunnery said. 'Oh,' Jonah thought remembering her name. Waters, Jessica Waters. "All guns charged."
      "Wait," Jonah said, following the positions of the enemy, waiting for them to fully surround his ship. He wanted the first surprise to be a good one. "After the alpha strike, launch both groups of fighters."
      "Yes, sir," Wesley said.
      "Alpha strike on my mark," Jonah said as the pods closed just a little bit more. "Mark" he said evenly.
      The space immediately surrounding the ship was immediately filled with the PDF fire, from the light chain guns on the Anti-Fighter turrets to the particle beams and lasers of the medium turrets and the fusion beams from the heavy turrets. The entire vessel shook as one of the capitol class rail guns stammered out a thousand hypervelocity rounds.
      The initial volley, guided by passive sensors to conceal the true nature of the Damocles was not incredibly accurate. As the actives began feeding data to the turrets a pair of pods exploded in bright flashes as particle beams connected with them. The pods began pulling away from the Damocles, desperate to avoid the kill zones close to the turrets.
      And then the guns fell silent as Shrike flight left the fighter bays. The 12 fighters blew through the confused Zentradi, scoring three kills in the first pass.
      "Christ," Dan muttered as 8 gees pressed him back in his seat. The computer, sensing the strain he was under, tilted his seat forward, to equalize the blood flow to some extent. It also detected the sensor locks of three Battle Armor and released chaff and flare countermeasures while pinpointed the hostile targets responsible.
      "Able, we're on the Armor. Jack," Dan said through the command channel, letting Bravo's leader in on the loop, "take those pods. And keep an eye open."
      Dan shifted to guardian, expecting his acceleration to drop slightly in exchange for maneuverability. He was still getting used to the power that his Shrike had, and brought the beam cannon to bear on the closest Armor. The Armor was firing wildly at him, countermeasures and naturally stealthy hull giving him little to shoot at. He squeezed the trigger as soon as the crosshairs lit up. The beam cut through the Armor, setting off a chain reaction that lit up the space around him.
      "Skipper," one of his men reported, "Armors all down."
      "Good work," he said, hiding his shock. Six battle armors in less than a minute? He thought.
      "Tac Com, can I get a Sit Rep?" he asked the Damocles.
      "We've got another pair of hostile targets, but the pods are down. Hold on a moment, we're getting the ID on the last two hostiles. Two light warships, Hunter class." As he spoke the Shrike's onboard computer began flashing the spec sheets of the Hunter on the MFD. It looked like a cylinder with the forward end tapered into a bulb. Large numbers of turrets dotted its hull, with a massive cannon dotting its nose.
      "Keep those two warships busy until we get a wave-gun lock, alright?" Winters told Dan over the link.
      "Roger," Dan replied, shifting back into fighter mode. "Able, we'll take the one on the left," marking which one he meant by laser designator. "Bravo, other one's all yours."
      He kicked the boosters down hard, shooting out into the lead as Able group aimed themselves at the target. Almost immediately after Dan let up on the throttle, the data feed from the Damocles died. Curious, Dan clicked onto the Tac Com channel.
      "Damocles?" he asked. "Come in, Tac Com. Shit," he muttered as he switched to the fighter group com link. "All right Able, something's wrong with the Damocles. Shrike 4 and 6 head back and keep an eye on her. See if you can get in contact. The rest of you with me."
      He glanced down and selected his missiles, rubbing his thumb across HOTAS to tell the computer to target the looming warship. In his entire patrol in the belt he'd fought one beat up war wagon that had crashed into an asteroid and was used as a base by rebels. The sight of an active, hostile warship was somehow chilling.
      "Shrike 2 and 3, take the top. Shrike 5, you're with me on the bottom. Stand off missiles away," he reported as the twenty Spike light missiles left the dorsal and ventral bays, causing the fighter to shudder slightly. The missiles streaked out towards the warship, the bright dots of the rocket engines fading before the flashes of energy weapons discharges that dotted the hull. As Dan began to jink his ship around, the other fighters released their own missile barrages. Explosions blossomed across the warship's hull, none of them penetrating the thick hull.
      That's a light warship, Dan reminded himself as he shifted into Guardian mode for the close pass, Shrike 5 only a half second behind.

      The Damocles drifted uselessly in space, lit only by the emergency batteries. Something had gone horribly wrong in the engineering section, robbing the Q-ship of its power. The turrets were still firing, drawing power off their capacitors which would soon fail. As the damage control teams fought the fire raging through the ships power conduits, Jonah stood on the bridge, his hand clasped around the command chair for support in the now zero gravity environment.
      "Status," he belted out as calmly as he could.
      "We have no power past battery backups. There was a chain reaction along power conduits feeding the wave-gun. When we powered them up…" reported Jessica from the gunnery station.
      "Sensors are down to passives only, with minimal computer analysis. Shrike flight was in the process of engaging the two warships when we lost power." Winters pushed off from his station and floated next to the captain's chair, stopping himself with unconscious ease. "There was a burst communication from somewhere on this ship a tenth of a second before the chain reaction. Someone sent a message to someone, and it wasn't headed towards Earth."
      "Do you mean to tell me I have a saboteur on board?" Jonah asked, voice flat.
      "All I'm telling you is that I'd be suspicious in your place."
      Jonah looked around his bridge, glancing at the red tinted faces of the crewmen who had subconsciously looked up to him. "Get in contact with engineering. Tell them to get me power as quickly as possible. Alert sickbay and tell Joshua to expect burns. And seal off as much of the ship as possible to prevent the fire form spreading."
      Jonah remembered the fires on board the Destiny after the Orbital Ring Engagement. They had burned for two days before all the oxygen and fuel onboard had been consumed. And the Destiny had been close to help, not stranded at the edge of the Asteroid belt with a pair of Zentradi warships bearing down on her.
      Give us a little more time, Shrike flight, Jonah thought as he focused on getting his ship in order.

      Dan touched his battloid's feet to the hull of the warship, pausing a moment to rake the beam cannon across another small turret. Able group had closed successfully with the frigate and was in the process of cracking the hull armor. Without ship killer missiles it was a daunting task, and now that giant Zentradi were streaming out of the airlocks with rifles and vacuum suits it looked impossible.
      "Concentrate on the weapons and thrusters," he called across the com link as the onboard computer dumped countermeasures from the shoulder mounted modules. Dan shot from the hip at a pair of Zentradi trying to set up a large field gun on the ship's hull. Then he kicked in his thrusters and jumped off the hull, directly into the remaining turrets' field of fire.
      "Man, what a mess," he muttered as he checked the data feeds from Bravo group and dodged a long stream of tracers from the light turrets near his feet. "Bravo, how goes it?" he asked.
      "Decent, sir. We've got some damage but they've got more. Any word from Mama?" Richards replied.
      "As far as I can tell, she's gone silent. Try and keep the that warship from getting too close."
      Man, Daniel thought as he sprayed beam fire at another in what appeared to be an endless line of turrets, this turned out FUBAR.

      Chief Engineer Zhi Gang donned one of the vacuum suits, clicking its communicator on and finding the bridge channel. After hearing the situation, Zhi Gang realized he had only one way to get rid of the fire.
      "Jonah!" he yelled into the com as he sprinted towards the Engineering master control. "I'm dumping atmosphere in thirty seconds. Secure the ship." With the fire out, Zhi Gang reasoned, I'll have the primary power conduits back on in no time. That means the wave cannon will be online and main power will be too.
      Zhi Gang's fingers flew across the keyboard at his station, ignoring the chaos that surrounded him. He waved off the other engineers, yelling at them to get ready to repair the conduits. There was no way for him to run to a shelter while he dumped the atmosphere, since he had to keep overriding the computer's automatic reseal commands.
      It didn't matter. He'd spent too much time working on this ship to let it burn now. Zhi Gang wrapped the restraining rope around the nearest metal bar he could find. Then he keyed the button. The three airlocks not connected to the flight deck opened. Along with the three man sized doors, over three hundred umbilical ports, fuel feeds and access panels opened to the void. Air was pulled rapidly out of the ship, except from the designated shelters in sick bay, the bridge and the fighter bays. And the fires that burned in the conduits died in less than two minutes.
      Zhi Gang's engineers were in the conduits less than a minute after that. The main power cable, triply shielded, was intact. The only thing they needed to fix was a single overflow capacitor that had blow, causing the insulation around it to ignite. Within three minutes of their entry, the Damocles' engineers had partial power back. The Damocles radioed Bravo group to evacuate the combat zone in preparation for a wave gun strike.

      Dan flinched as the bright lance of the wave gun linked the Damocles and the other attacking vessel. He knew it was coming, the Tac Com channel bubbling over with requests and orders to clear out, but he'd never seen a wave gun firing.
      He did know parts of the physics, which came unbidden as he watched the procedure build. Unlike the SDF-1's main gun, or the main guns of almost every vessel humanity had encountered, the wave-gun didn't rely on directing energy directly at a target in an attempt of overwhelm the atomic bonds of its target and vaporize the enemy. Instead it created a ribbon of crushed space-time linking the gun and the target. The white lance that seemed too bright to exist was evidence that the first phase of firing was complete.
      Then the Damocles seemed to stretch and twist as its Reflex Drives dumped their full output into the ribbon, deforming space-time to an absurd extent and bending the light that Dan was seeing. Then there was a bright flash as the space-time ribbon collapsed, pulling the energy from the Reflex furnaces towards the Frigate with ever increasing speed. The end result was all the energy of the ribbon, plus all the energy from the furnaces colliding with the hull of the enemy warship across an infinitesimally small area.
      The Zentradi warship erupted into a brilliant yellow ball, then seemed to smear as the curvature of space-time around it returned to normal, leaving nothing but free floating atoms as a testament to the ship that had been there until a moment before.
      The hoots and hollers filled Dan's ears a half second afterwards, on the Tac Com and local channels.
      "Calm down boys. There's still another ship right behind us," Dan glanced at his HUD, surprised to see the last warship lumbering around to flee.
      "Do we follow?" someone asked over the local channel.
      "Negative," Winters said over Tac Com. "Stand down and return to the Damocles. We've got serious damage onboard."
      "You heard the man," Dan said after Winters closed the line. "Back to the ship."

      Nina stared at the results. Her latest test had not been on the human DNA that her keepers forced her to work on. Nor the Zentradi DNA from her lab on the Orbital Ring. It was a collection of skin cells, from one of the work tables and her own chin. Alpha's DNA greeted her on screen.
      "Its both…" she said glancing at the tell tale signs of Zentradi and human DNA that formed the plans for Alpha. She knew of Max Sterling and that Zentradi whore he married and the child of that union. She paused to shudder at the thought. It had never occurred to her that it could have happened before. Dana Sterling was nearing graduation from the academy, which meant Alpha couldn't be much older than she.
      What surprised her even more was the test she ran on the Alpha's DNA regarding her project. Clear as day on her screen she saw her life's work and the twisted version she was constructing now, both connecting as the search receptors locked onto the DNA strands.
      "He's vulnerable to both…Why does he…" she glanced around, hoping her murmurs hadn't alerted her guard. "It doesn't make any sense," she said, tears of confusion and fear building in her blue eyes. "Why would he want that?"

Copyright reserved 1999 Jerico Mele []

Disclaimer: Robotech is Copyright 1985 Harmony Gold, U.S.A, Inc./Tatsunoko Prod. Cp., Ltd. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended.

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