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The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 5

Here’s Part 5 of my sci-fi short story! If you haven’t started yet, click here to read from the beginning. Part 2 is here, Part 3 and of course, Part 4. Now that you’re all caught up, keep reading! 

***

“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.

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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.

The Silent Serpent by J.A. Dowsett – Part 1

It’s time for another short story! This one’s not a pre-quel, or attached to any book at all, it’s a stand-alone sci-fi adventure following a group of characters that have been bouncing around in my head for a while. Please, enjoy! For more about me, just look around, or check our authors page here. 

***

The Silent Serpent hurtled through space at a speed only made possible by Jump technology. The old cargo hauler shuddered in protest at the velocity, but the pilot, Nell, paid the vessel no mind. Instead, her golden-green cat eyes were narrowed lazily over the cards in her hand as she deliberated her next play, her metal-tipped tail twitching idly.

Xendri watched her carefully, but the black and gold tortoiseshell cat, or Pentaurii as her race was called, gave nothing away by her expression; she was good at this game. Nell played the Queen of Spades, placing it on the foldout tray between them in the cockpit. Xendri frowned, looking between the cards at play and the ones in her hand before realizing all of a sudden that she’d been outmaneuvered. There was no way she could win now.

Xendri clicked her tongue in displeasure, speaking a few less-than-polite words in her native language before standing. “I’m going to check on the cargo.”  

“Cargo?” Nell questioned. “We’re mid-jump. It’s not going anywhere.”

“Yeah, but I haven’t seen it yet.”

Nell rolled her eyes. “Suit yourself.” Yawning, she put her hand of cards down as she turned to inspect the ship’s controls, absently going through the motions her job as thes ship’s secondary pilot required.

Xendri left her there and swung out into the main body of the ship, nimbly making her way to the ladder that led down into the detachable cargo bay.   

“Hey, Kiddo,” a deep male voice rumbled, catching her off guard. “Where you goin’?”

Looking up, Xendri found one of the loaders, a human man named nicknamed Quattro, looking at her curiously. He was much taller than her, six feet to her four, well-muscled, and he wore a impressive-looking pistol on his belt. Despite all that, there was no malice in his expression or in his glowing purple eyes, so she decided to let the ‘nickname’ he’d chosen for her slide, for now.

“Looking around,” she answered briefly. “Stretching my legs.”

Quattro nodded. “Yeah, gets a little boring in Jump-space, doesn’t it? Alright, go on then. Can’t hurt nuthin’.”

But Xendri wasn’t listening to him any longer; her eyes had fixated on the other device his belt contained. “Hey, can I borrow that?” she asked, gesturing with her chin.

Quattro looked down, confused. “You mean the scanner?” He unhooked it and tossed it to her. “Sure thing, Kiddo, knock yourself out.”

Xendri nodded, catching and pocketing the device before scurrying down the ladder, dismissing the burly loader from her thoughts. She took the ladder rungs two at a time and jumped the rest of the way to the floor of the cargo bay, landing gracefully on all fours before standing and making sure she was alone. The cargo bay was quiet; the only sound the occasionally creak to remind her that they were still moving very very fast, even if the floor beneath her feet felt stationary. She tapped the metal-plated floor with her foot as if to test the artificial gravity, but it felt the same as standing on any other surface. Space travel was weird that way, the universe had no up and down, but people made their own. Xendri wasn’t sure she’d ever really get used to it. She shrugged and pulled the scanner device out of her pocket, fiddling with the dials and buttons until she got the display to show what she wanted.

Walking slowly between the long cargo containers that filled the bay, Xendri let the scanner device do its thing, even going so far as to climb on top of one of the massive containers to scan closer to the middle.

“That’s odd,” Xendri muttered after some time spent in contemplation of what the hand-held device was telling her.

Eyes still on her findings, Xendri climbed back down off the crate, then back up the ladder to the rest of the ship. There was no sign of Quattro, but she wasn’t looking for him anyways; she went straight for the Captain’s quarters.

To be continued…