“Identify yourself.” The words came sharply through the Silent Serpents’ speakers.
“Olympus, this is Captain James Claw of the Silent Serpent. We’re a small cargo vessel, but we happen to be carrying cargo that may be of use to you against the Delkrit.”
There was a pause. “What kind of cargo?”
“Explosives,” Captain Claw answered and Xendri flinched, knowing the Terran ship wouldn’t be too happy to hear that. The Council was really particular when it came to transporting weapons and the Terrans, or humans as they usually called themselves, basically ran the Council.
“Captain, I’m sure you’re aware of the law regarding-”
“They were a delivery meant for the mine on Elu,” James cut the person off. “Perfectly legal. I even have a manifest signed by the mine’s owner requesting the delivery. However, I think, under the circumstances…”
There was another pause. “Yes, I think you’re right, Captain. Under the circumstances, it would be your duty to use everything at your disposal to defend the system. I’ll make a note of your sacrifice, so that the owners of this mine can file for insurance.”
“Thank you, Olympus,” Claw said, grinning now. Xendri raised a brow in his direction.
“Captain, will you be dropping these explosives of yours off to us?”
Instead of answering immediately, Captain Claw met Nell’s eyes questioningly. The pilot settled her nerves by taking in a deep breath and then nodded to the Captain, some silent exchange taking place between the two of them. Xendri wasn’t sure what it was or what her place was in all this, but she was fascinated and couldn’t tear her eyes away from the action unfolding before her.
“That won’t be necessary, Olympus,” Claw said then, squeezing Nell on the shoulder. “We’ll manage.”
“Best of luck, Silent Serpent, and thank you for your help. Olympus out.”
Xendri heard a growling sound behind her and she whirled around to see the Silent Serpent’s main pilot, a burly-looking orange-skinned Jorn male, his short horns pointed. As soon as she made eye contact with him, his expression contorted as his growl cut off and he spun on his heel, taking off back into the ship. Ahead of Xendri, Nell started at the sound, trying to whirl around to see what was going on behind her, but Captain Claw squeezed tighter on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about him. Keep your focus on the task ahead.”
Nell nodded again, squaring her shoulders and taking a few more deep breaths as she gripped the steering column firmly with both paws.
“Xendri, shut that door and don’t let anybody through it, alright?” Claw ordered.
Spurring into motion, Xendri dove for the door mechanism and sealed the cockpit away from the rest of the ship. Abruptly it was just the three of them cramped into a very small space facing a Delkrit platform and a swirling mass of ships and weapons fire; the rest of the ship felt very far away.
“Here goes,” Nell announced suddenly and the Silent Serpent surged forward at its maximum velocity toward the dreaded machine-city.
To his credit, Captain Claw hung on to the back of Nell’s chair and said nothing; he just let the Pentaurii pilot do her job. Despite Xendri feeling like she was staring down the barrel of a gun as they hurtled toward the massive metal structure, flying like this was exhilarating. It was one thing to go fast in a Jump tunnel where there was little danger of anything going wrong and even less danger of hitting anything. It was quite another to go full speed while surrounded by chaos and to dive headfirst toward something much larger and much deadlier than you. It made her feel powerful and fearless, even though she wasn’t even the one piloting the vessel.
Thankfully the Enbi fighters were still drawing most of the fire, but the Silent Serpent still shook with the force of their passage and occasionally with the graze of a laser scraping the hull. Xendri could smell smoke and she wondered if being sealed away in the cockpit kept them from realizing how much damage the ship was really taking.
Nell weaved, getting in as close as she could, her tail hovering over the control panel as if she might need a third limb just to get the ship to do what she wanted it to do. She deliberately positioned the Silent Serpent to pass in the space between two enemy turrets. Those turrets were currently occupied, firing doggedly at the swarm of Enbi, but at any moment they could swing around and obliterate them.
“Now,” Captain Claw commanded, the authority clear in his voice.
Nell’s tail swiped downward like a scorpion striking, hitting a button on the control panel. Xendri heard the mechanism in the ship click and it was the sound that clued her in to what they were attempting to do. The button was meant to unlock the clamps that held their detachable cargo bay in place. Nell made to reach to her right for the lever that would physically detach the arms and release the cargo bay, bombs and all, onto the unsuspecting Delkrit ship below, but Captain Claw beat her to it. He pulled hard on the mechanism and it wrenched downwards with an audible whine. Nell didn’t wait for confirmation; she pulled upward on the steering column to send them up and away so the bombs could do their work.
But the cargo bay didn’t detach.
At least, not all at once. There was a horrible shudder accompanied by the sound of tearing metal, as the top of the ship went one way and the cargo bay tried to go another. A shared look of horror crossed all three of the faces in the cockpit as they collectively realized what had gone wrong; one of the clamps hadn’t let go.
And that was only the first sign that their luck had run out. As they passed too close to the Delkrit turrets, the weapons locked onto them as the biggest and most dangerous thing in sight. Two guns, each one almost the size of their entire ship, visibly cocked back as they prepared to fire.
Xendri gasped, watching the laser shoot straight for them.