Captain Stormgate stalked into the medical bay. Dr. Absic was in triage, tending to the wounded. He didn’t stop moving to catch two breaths. “Rather busy at the moment, Captain.”
Sonja took center position in the room. “I can see that. I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate your handiwork.” Absic’s entire body shuddered. He spared Sonja a glance, then went back to work.
The Gladius hung in the void, a wounded juggernaut. Reports continued to flood in as the captain got her hands dirty helping the wounded.
“Secondary charges blew, the moment that ship was out of range,” reported Lieutenant Commander Packel.
Stormgate wiped her brow. “What’s the damage?”
Aboard the Fiend’s Dispatcher, a medic gingerly plucked the blade out of his master’s forearm. The dagger vibrated in his hands. It didn’t belong to him, and the blade knew it. With more pressing matters at hand, the medic dropped the blade and produced a roll of SecondFlesh bandaging from his bag. He tore apart the Fiend’s sleeve and dressed the wound. The bleeding stopped immediately.
On the floor, the dagger landed flat and was pointed directly at Sonja. No-one noticed.
The Fiend troops opened fire. Green blasts shot through the air, knocking soldiers and crewmen off their feet.
“FIRE!” The crew of the Gladius scrambled, drawing weapons and returning fire. Captain Stormgate drew her pistol and fired three shots in succession. Three Fiend troops fell to the floor, dead. Glowing Seeds of Glory whistled past her.
The day arrived. Cadet Stormgate was practically trembling with nerves. She would be hard-pressed to deny she liked the feeling. The adrenaline rush was a family weakness. Her father’d had it, as had his father, all the way down the family tree. At one point or another, every Stormgate was an adrenaline junkie.
As to the flight itself, Dr. Hall had been thorough. “I’ve worked out every factor to the last detail,” he promised, for the sixth time that morning.
“We have a live filament feed to the Caretaker, we’ll be watching you come out the other side… likely the instant you leave.”
“Can we back up here a second?” asked young Sonja. “Who the thruck is this Fiend, anyway?” The entire assembled crew of the Gladius went silent, for a moment. The captain looked to her commander. Barnes stepped forward.
“’This Fiend’ is the madman who’s conquered a quarter of the known galaxy, in the last ten years.”
Young Sonja froze. “That’s… not possible.”
Barnes slipped a hand from her pocket. “It is with this.”
Doctor Hall blinked. “Where was I? Oh. Right. Arresting true movement. Took a bit to get sorted out, and then test, and then fine-tune, and then minimize… I mean, the first attempt at arresting all momentum was a disaster. We’re lucky no one was badly hurt.
“I got ahead of myself, didn’t I? Sorry. So sorry. I do that. Right. We’re still in theory. See, the universe is constantly expanding. Outward. In all directions at once. And by achieving true arrest… the universe continues to expand and you see where you’re not going anymore.”
Cadet Stormgate stood beside the battered Venture, staring into the cool gaze of her fifty-year-old self. “Why don’t you give us a refresher on how this thing works,” offered the senior Stormgate. “None of us has laid eyes on it in decades.”
Doctor Hall nearly pirouetted around his darling. “So what has Ms. Barnes told you, so far?”
“Play it again.”
Atop his throne, the Fiend slouched back. A massive projection hung in the air. The crewman who’d recorded the footage stood at attention below.
“Certainly, Your Majesty. This is where the debris from one of our– your fighters crosses the displaced time field… and this is where it disintegrates. Nothing but the original ship will make it through, intact.”
The Fiend’s head tipped to one side. “And now, it’s in the belly of the Gladius. That’s marvelous.”
Captain Stormgate stood on the Observation Deck, gazing out at the nebula. A narrow field of debris caught starlight. It was almost beautiful. Dr. Absic stood nearby, waiting.
“Was that really me, on the hangar deck?”
“I’m afraid so, yes.”
She turned to him, livid. “How is that even possible?” The doctor hesitated. “Out with it, old man.”