“Who is this? How do we know you won’t space us as soon as we drop our shields?” O’Brian grumbled into the radio as he started to turn the bomber around. It was such a heavy and unwieldy spacecraft compared to the fighter he was comfortable flying. Whatever had a lock on him was either well hidden in his blind spot or running some advanced stealth equipment as it was having trouble finding the source of the missile lock.
“I am the one asking the questions here! We were told to be looking for someone” The voice on the radio sounded slightly annoyed.
“Well, we may or may not be them, but until I know….” O’Brian was trying to negotiate to buy some time to work through this situation. Without Franklin being conscious he had no idea about what he should do or who he was supposed to meet. He felt there was something non-Empire about the way they announced themselves, but he wasn’t sure, and for all he knew they were pirates. Unfortunately, before he finished his sentence, he was interrupted.
“Times up” The voice on the radio said in a very nonchalant manner, as if one was simply saying they took the garbage out.
Suddenly the instruments lit up with warnings of incoming missiles and multiple contacts. O’Brian realized why he couldn’t find them before. They masked their approach through the asteroid belt and were only running passive sensors to keep a low profile. A very well planned ambush if they had been expecting someone to come this way. He realized the IFF signals were ones that he did not recognize. They were not UEE signals.
“Gunners shoot down the missiles!” O’Brian yelled on the intercom as he pulled hard on the controls to change the approach vector of the missiles. His goal was to make the missiles approach at a steep enough angles that they are unable to turn fast enough to impact and to be far enough behind them before they complete a turn that the missiles seeker is unable to regain lock.
A few seconds pass and the turrets began to open fire on missiles, with laser and neutron cannon fire filling the void. O’Brian went to release counter measures to help dodge the missiles but the ships computer beeped and displayed that the counter measure launcher was damage. Desperation was building up in side of O’Brian. He was maneuvering the bomber as hard as its maneuvering thrusters would allow it to move causing a slight metallic groaning sound to resonate through the long hull as whole craft flexed under many varied and rapid acceleration changes.
Two blasts occurred within a few hundred meters, followed by several more. O’Brian head shouts of joy from the gunners as they shot down several incoming missiles.
Without warning the whole bomber pitched violently forward. Screams were heard in the back of the bomber. The cockpit displays turned red with warnings and system failures, the shields collapsed. Several missiles hit along the bomber at nearly the same time shearing off armor and destroying the main thrusters.
***ALARM*** HULL BREACH IMMINIENT! ***ALARM***
O’Brian could not control the craft now spinning and flipping at a fairly disorienting rate. His controls simply did not respond. He noticed that no missiles were in the air. Quickly he broadcast on the radio “We surrender. Do not fire!” He voice ripe with desperation. Whoever these people were, they were professionals; and they were not part of the Empire and too well armed to be pirates or slavers, perhaps they were people who Franklin arranged to meet them?
At first there was no reply. O’Brian began to prepare himself for death. At least he would die in the cockpit not in some prison cell, and not by his own hand either. At least it would be a warrior’s death suitable for a military pilot. There were several minutes of somber conversation among the crew, while a dark worry crept over them. They wondered why they didn’t finish them off or communicate. Several of the ships systems started to fail. Perhaps there were being left for dead?
At some point a tractor beam was used to stabilize the flipping Retaliator, but then the ship that used the beam broke away and nothing further occurred for several more very long minutes. The crew from time to time was able to identify several makes of ships as they flew by. A couple Cutlass, three Hornets (one of which was a military model), and one other they couldn’t quite determine what it was. They were all painted the same; a glossy white, with a silver stripe down the middle of the ship, and each major feature of the ship outlined in a bright red. The only major markings were numbers, likely indicating unit number, and a logo that was a black disk with a fuzzy light blue halo, and a bright red V crossed by a rotated C with the round part of the C facing the top of the V and crossing the middle of it.
“O’Brian! Look!” It was Khan yelling in a panicked and excited voice. She wasn’t used to being in a combat craft so didn’t give much aid in which way to look, but O’Brian guessed correctly and to his three o’clock was a view of an Idris covette painted in the same manner as the fighters.
“I see it Khan. I think we are going to be visited shortly. Everyone, stand down from stations, and form ranks at the docking hatch.” O’Brian gave the order plainly, with no emotion in his voice. There was none left to give. As he went to meet the crew, he checked on Franklin, she was alive, if only barely. O’Brian thought to himself that she was much tougher than she looked, and then patted her on the shoulder as he went past her.
A tractor beam from the Idris now engaged the Retaliator. The crew, deciding to great their visitors unarmed if only in a pitiful attempt to try and save their lives by showing total surrender, unsure of what they would meet through the docking hatch. The next two minutes seemed like an eternity. They finally heard the docking collars lock and the atmospheres stabilize. Four figures came through the door way, wearing uniforms that matched the paint of their ships. One had nothing in his hands, only a holstered pistol, and the others combat rifles at a low ready stance. As they entered the riflemen spread along the entry way to surround the crew, leaving the pistol armed man facing the crew.
“Ah! Imperial RATS had enough and are begging for our mercy? And why should we give them any, when they show us none?” The man with the pistol, now obviously the commander, sneered with a hard look in his eyes.
“You haven’t showed any yet anyhow! And neither has the Empire for that matter!” O’Brian retorted. Trying to appear equally hardened, but he knew inside that the man he faced now had seen far more horrors and death than he could even begin to imagine.
“Is that so? Yet, we have left you alive. And by the looks of things the Empire has kept you well fed and clothed. Not like my family who for years were cast out, starving, and with mere rags on their backs!” A very personal anguish was seen behind the eyes of the commander as he spoke these words. This is something O’Brian could relate to.
“I’m sorry, but I had nothing…” O’Brian started to apologize in hopes of calming the situation and speaking on a personal level.
“NOTHING, to do with it? No, not at all, so long as you had your pretty little spaceships to fly with you didn’t really care what happened. So don’t apologize to me! You disgust me!” Softness only seemed to further enrage this commander. But, this response also enraged O’Brian. After all he has been through he was in no mood to be spoken to like he was some rotten criminal hiding in the old and dark back alleys on Earth.
O’Brian let out a sudden curse at the top of his lungs as he lunged forward and swung his right fist into the jaw of the commander. It connected with a solid thud. O’Brian saw the man stagger backwards taken off guard by the attack.
Then, there was a sudden shocking blow to the back of O’Brian’s head. The metal butt-plate of a rifle gave a forceful blow. O’Brian staggered forward and fell. He tried to get up to his feet, but couldn’t manage it. The rest of the crew started to advance as if to attack the commander.
“Enough!” The commander ordered as his armed guards raised theirs rifles to high ready. The crew would die quickly if they attacked. “Don’t let one being so rash lead the rest of you to destruction. I did not come here to kill you, but if I must then I will.” The crew stopped advancing at these words and O’Brian looked up, still trying to stand up. He felt he was going to pass out.
“Sir! There is another one in the cockpit!!” One of the armed guards yelled from the cockpit of the bombers.
“Bring her here!” The commander ordered, looking somewhat surprised.
“Sir, I can’t. She is in too bad of shape.” A brief pause followed as the armed guard identified who it was “Sir, it is her. The one we were waiting for.” At this the commander perked up and smiled.
“Hmm, An imperial crew, with a special passenger. Lock them in the brig! Except for the two who are a bit ‘damaged’, bring them to the medical bay and do not let them die…They are possibly useful to us.” The commander stated as if he was calculating some complicated formula. He smiled a bit when described O’Brian and Franklin as damaged. O’Brian tried to raise his hand for assistance in getting up, to walk himself, but instead he was met with a swift kick of a boot to his head by the commander. O’Brian heard an odd laugh coming from the commander as he slipped out of consciousness.