The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 4

If you missed Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3, follow the links. Otherwise, read on! (This is a sci-fi short story by J.A. Dowsett that you don’t want to miss!) 

***

The Silent Serpent surged out of the Jump Gate into regular space and slowed immediately, though still moving far faster than the well-worn ship could have managed under its own power. Nell was back in the pilot’s chair and Xendri stood behind her, eager to see another new region of space. However, no sooner had Nell caught sight of what awaited them in this sector did her gold-flecked black fur stand on end. Whipping her tail around, she used the metal tip to tap the button that allowed her access to the ship-wide communications system, setting it to high-alert, while every other part of her remained focused on the ship’s controls.

“Xendri,” Nell said, tension making her voice clipped, “get the Captain. We have a problem.”

Before Xendri could so much as turn around, Nell knocked the controls forward and the old cargo vessel lurched, nose pointed downwards. Weapons fire was visible in the cockpit’s narrow window, but it made no sound until it grazed the side of the vessel, where it sounded like metal grinding against metal and sparks.

Xendri’s breath caught in her throat, but she didn’t let the stop her. “Captain!” she yelled into the rest of the ship as she exited the cockpit, clinging to any handholds she could find on the ship’s metal interior.

Captain James Claw stumbled into view just as Nell was righting the ship once more, sending the Terian shoulder-first into a metal wall. “What’s the prob-” He stopped mid-sentence, cleary able to see the issue for himself.

Xendri turned around to see what he was looking at and she finally was able to understand fully what Nell had grasped in those first few seconds out of the gate. It wasn’t just one ship firing at another or some sort of defense system they were on the wrong side of. They’d entered into an active warzone.

Ships of all shapes, sizes, and descriptions flew this way and that, defending the gate and the nearby space station from the largest ship in the area, which looked less like a ship and more like a floating platform atop which sat a silent, technologically advanced city. It was massive, as large as the space station itself and oddly square in shape, not like most of the vessels that flew around it. It was also…lifeless-looking. There were a few minor lights here or there, mostly near the guns, but otherwise the vessel was dark and unornamented as it drifted slowly through space.

“Delkrit,” Captain Claw whispered as he pushed absent-mindedly past Xendri.

Even being from one of the more remote corners of the galaxy, Xendri recognized the word. Everyone had heard of the Delkrit, though it was rare for anyone to have seen one, let alone survived to tell about it. They were the modern-day boogeyman. Tales that were told about the horrors that lurked out in the black of space to keep pilots and captains from venturing too far out into the uncharted parts of the galaxy. Not exactly a race, or even alive in the traditional sense, the Delkrit were machines with an AI hive mind programmed for one thing: to destroy all organic life. They were said to be the scourge of the galaxy.

Despite herself, Xendri followed the Captain back into the cockpit and squeezed herself beneath the wall and his arm so she could see what was going on. Nell had brought the ship around to join with the multitude of ships that were arrayed in a semi-organized fashion in their united goal to keep the Delkrit from destroying the gate. No matter which race this sector belonged to, the Delkrit were everybody’s enemy, and if the gate fell anyone within it would be stranded somewhere between here and the gate they left from, with no way to know how far they’d been tossed off course. And that was if they survived the gate’s collapse at all. It wasn’t lost on Xendri that had they not exited the gate when they did, that could easily have been their fate. As a spacefaring vessel, they owed it to whomever might be travelling through that gate to do what they could to ensure it didn’t shut down unexpectedly.

“Captain?” Nell questioned.

“You have any skill with guns?” Claw asked her and she nodded without taking her eyes off the task ahead of her. “Then use your best judgement,” he told her.

Xendri held her breath as Nell brought the Silent Serpent within firing range and strafed to the left, using the ship’s lasers for all they were worth. She left a few small explosions in her wake and managed to avoid being shot out of the sky. Xendri allowed herself to breathe again only when they were again skirting away from the horrifying cold and impersonal-looking Delkrit city, which fired at them only because its sensors detected their proximity, not because it ‘felt threatened’ or even felt anything at all. Xendri shuddered.

Just then, a team of Enbi ships swooped past them, so close their sudden appearance took Xendri’s breath right back out of her and Captain Claw swore audibly. Tiny one-man vessels, the Enbi fighter-ships were like a swarm of bees compared to the Delkrit city and just as angry, but as Xendri learned a moment later, they weren’t what had Nell or the Captain’s attention.  

“Shit, is that a Terran dreadnought?”

Between one breath and the next, by far the largest ship Xendri had ever seen popped into the sector, blocking out her view of this system’s sun. It was easily the width of the Delkrit vessel, if not wider, and it towered upwards as well, like a giant ark without sails. The words, ‘The Olympus’ were painted on the side, each letter easily the size of their own meager cargo ship.

“Wait, that gives me an idea,” Claw declared. “Nell, open up a communication to that Terran vessel.”

Nell’s eyes went wide at the command, but she followed it and hailed the Terran ship, even as she kept them moving, so as to make a difficult target for Delkrit guns.

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