Part 38 - Hope Runs DeepMature

Evolved Locri packs freely roamed the badlands in the southern continent of Exur. The battle was gone, and a quiet calm held the scene. Tabled desert mesas offered fresh corpses to the sky.

On the other side of the planet, the NSC Vidar emerged in the open sky above the sea as a pinpoint of light. A tail of fire stretched in its wake to an arching blaze that marked the vessel's final descent. At every moment it drew nearer to the sea, and the three evolved Locri pursued it there.

The creatures did not relent, their dogged adamance only matched by their fury as they cast their lightning at the Vidar. On the surface, the waters stirred as the chase went, fifteen thousand kilometers an hour.

Captain Wilkes counted her luck. However the evolved Locri perceived their environment, they couldn't quite hit a mark at range, at these speeds, and within a dense atmosphere.

What did they want anyway? Maybe they believed they were chasing live prey. She needed one good run to make the maneuver work. She'd probably only get one run.

"Maintain speed," she told Lieutenant Hastings. "Descent to the sea until my mark, then rapidly ascend and do a power cut so we don’t break orbit."

A thousand fingers made of black lightning reached for the Vidar. The lightning overshot the target, streaked past a toxic lavender shore somewhere beyond the horizon and disintegrated a sandstone bluff.

The lone vessel was now less than a kilometer shy from the surface, and the entire sea trembled in its wake. Even at this perilous depth, in atmosphere this thick, the evolved Locri drew closer to the Vidar.

Their aim was getting better. Lightning flew from their electric shrouds and overshot the target by meters. Instead of accelerating, however, the vessel did the last thing the creatures expected: it dropped even lower. The heated hull barely kissed the surface, but the NSC Vidar split the sea like a sword. Steam, brine and floe and rain sprayed kilometer upon kilometer on either side of the craft. The rising sea bathed the evolved Locri behind the starship.

Their electric shrouds sparked from the water and confused the creatures, temporarily blinding and stunning them into their charging courses.

The shearing current ripped across the sea and slashed an ugly canyon clear across a lavender shore. The first bioship crashed into a blighted forest, while the other two flew into the mountain range beyond.

"Mark!"

"Ascending!" Lieutenant Hastings cried.

The NSC Vidar rose from the spilling sea like an ironclad leviathan that took to the sky in a plume of steam and dark metal in an upward fiery arc. Its propulsors flared a brilliant blue tinge, and for a moment it seemed uncertain of its course—rising and then petering out from its climbs—but the craft prevailed.

A small victory, Captain Wilkes thought, but her vessel's state was dire.

Pearl-white coolant bled through the emergency reactor vents and left a roiling wake behind them, through which blades of molten metal sliced. The hull groaned, rattled and pinged under stress. The vessel was falling apart.

"Reactor redline in three minutes," Ein Roskva said. He was more than annoyed—small blame to him. "With all respect, this vessel wasn’t designed to be thrown around like a fucking speedboat . We must set it down."

Captain Wilkes took her luck. The maneuver brought them a precious moment to breathe, plan, and look for a landing zone. She tried to raise Unit 03 on the com radio, but even though the signal was stronger near the surface, there was no response.

Wilkes briefly considered something even worse than Unit 03 dying: if she was so beaten in combat that the self-preservation measure completely overwrote the human and made her become a rogue unit like theSword of Mercy.

Naval Code 5-8-92 mandated that loss of control on Class 12 weapons was an act of treason. Although there was no one left alive to prosecute her, Captain Wilkes found no consolation in that fact.

"Ma'am," Lieutenant Hastings called out, his voice tense and tight. "Subspace ruptures."

Captain Wilkes toggled from the communication screen on her tactical display to the navigation screen. Two evolved bioships emerged at extreme range from planet Chiron.

Titan eels adrift in the void, electric shrouds sparking. An entire armada of evolved Locri emerged at extreme range from planet Chiron. Captain Wilkes almost felt insulted. Did the plague consider them so hopeless, so utterly defeated across the galaxy that it was now migrating across its interstellar empire? Again, all she could do was keep hope and try.

Hope runs deep.

"Unit 03, please respond. The evolved Locri are finished here and they're heading for the surface. You're going to have your hands full if you don't clear a landing zone for me to set the Vidar down... "

The End

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