Homeworld (Odyssey One) (9 page)

“Filtration is down to a fifth, Captain. We can’t clear the air.”

Sun swore, long and vile words that had no business coming from the mouth of a professional soldier of the people’s army. The ship’s filters were barely keeping up. Soon they’d begin to fail, and when that happened, the
Weifang
would be just one more ghost ship in the legends of the universe.

“Pull the candles from ship’s stores,” he ordered.

“Captain, we don’t have nearly enough for the journey home.”

“What does that matter? We’ll not survive the trip if we don’t clear this smoke and get the filters running again. Pull the candles, I say, and then fix the filters, if you must rebuild them from vacuum!”

“Yes, Captain!” The engineer fell back, issuing orders to the other men.

Sun watched the work as it continued, knowing that the oxygen candles would do little but buy them time. He’d hold back a few dozen of the precious canisters against the hope that they could get the filters working again, but it wasn’t looking good.

Those things hit us where it hurt,
Sun thought grimly.
Half our engineering section is in tatters, along with most of the fabs. What’s left is in hard vacuum and exposed to FTL space.

There was no getting around it, Sun knew.

The
Weifang
would have to slow down in order to affect repairs.

He made his way back through the labyrinthine passages to the Command deck, ignoring his own station to come to rest near the shoulder of the long-range instrumentation station.

“Is there any sign of pursuit?” he asked tersely.

The man holding the station shook his head. “No, Captain, nothing.”

The crewmember hesitated a moment, then turned to look at Sun. “But, Captain, half our instruments were blown out and we’re in FTL. We’re not blind, but we aren’t seeing twenty/twenty as the doctor may say either.”

“Understood.” Sun clapped his man on the shoulder and kicked back.

He drifted back to the command station and strapped himself in. “Helm. Signal preparations to drop from FTL.”

“Yes, Captain! Preparations underway.”

“Ease up on CM when ready. Bring us out of FTL and reduce speed to low relativistic rates.”

Alarms sounded through the ship, warning all hands to move to deceleration positions. Stations began to report in one by one.

“All stations report clear to decelerate.”

“Dropping CM,” the helmsman said, his voice tense. “We’ll cross the light-speed barrier…now.”

The ride didn’t perceptibly roughen, not like dropping from supersonic to subsonic in atmosphere, but there was an edge that suddenly assaulted them even as they braced themselves for it. The CM drive was a miracle of multidimensional engineering, manipulating space-time to form an incline on which the
Weifang
“surfed.” While under full CM drive, the bubble in which the
Weifang
sat was insulated from normal space-time, but when they dropped CM there was a brief Doppler effect on light. Most of it was beyond human visual limits, but enough leaked out to make a man ill if he wasn’t guarded against it.

The feeling only lasted a moment, and then they were far enough below light-speed that it wasn’t noticeable.

“Light-speed instrumentation coming online, Captain!”

“Give me a full area scan, centered on our position,” Sun ordered, unstrapping himself from the station. “Let me know the instant you see anything that concerns you. I’m heading aft.”

“Yes, Captain!”

Sun grimaced as he overlooked the evacuated sections of his ship through the tinted plate of his EVA suit.

The enemy lasers simply vaporized a hundred square meters of armor plated steel. Unbelievable.

The strike had been a single instant in time, a moment of terror in the long hours of emptiness between the clash of crossed swords that defined the battle they’d endured, and yet the damage seemed impossible.

For good or ill, there were few bodies to be found as they made their way through the damaged sections. Most had been blown out by the explosive decompression, so there would be no bodies to return to their families when—if—the
Weifang
returned home. On the plus side of that, he didn’t have to worry about possibly losing another of his people to choking on their own vomit if they ran into the corpse of someone they knew while being sealed in an EVA suit.

It was a very small silver lining, but at the moment Sun would take what he could get.

“Find any fabricators that look intact or repairable. We need to get the filters replaced,” he said, waving his crew forward.

They acknowledged, dragging themselves through the sections while Sun took a moment to twist around and look out on interstellar space.

It was…startling. Beautiful. Terrifying.

This far out from any source of light or reflection, the universe felt infinitely black and absolutely brilliant at the same time. The sky held more stars than he’d ever seen from Earth, yet that faint light only served to emphasize just how very dark it was.

Aside from their suit lights, and those distant unblinking stars, there was nothing but an absolute blackness the likes of which he’d never imagined. Sun felt awed and humbled just being in the presence of darkness so profound, and his eyes refused to look on it directly for any length of time.

“Captain, we’ve located the fabricators. They seem to be mostly intact.”

Sun shook himself free of the introspection. “Good. Get them unbolted so we can pull them back into the ship.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Shifting the mass of the fabricators was difficult, even in microgravity. The Block may have the lead in CM technology, among a few others, but Sun had to admit that the best fab units were manufactured in the Confederacy.

Block units were capable, but bulky in comparison. Of course, all things were relative, he supposed. They fit the capabilities of an advanced automated factory into the space of a small room. That was pretty compact.

He’d heard that the had some models that were the size of a dinner plate yet could construct a house inside of twelve hours. A nice house.

Unfortunately we don’t have any of those on board.

Moving the fabricators was simple enough, just incredibly dangerous and time consuming. They couldn’t afford to get them moving fast; their momentum would turn them into lethal projectiles and, possibly worse, they might be damaged and take with them the
Weifang’s
already slim chances for survival.

So they had to inch them through the corridors, pushing from both ends so that they couldn’t get out of control. It was a long, arduous, and incredibly dangerous procedure.

And they had to do every bit of it in bulky EVA gear that barely fit through some of the tighter sections.

After working around the clock, almost three full shifts in EVA gear, they finally got the pieces inside the secured
sections of the
Weifang
. After that, Sun ordered the EVA crew to stand down and get some sleep while the engineering teams took over. He stayed on watch for a little longer himself, then finally gave it up and went to his cabin for some sleep of his own.

With the oxygen candles burning to keep the air breathable, the smoke and smog had been pushed back a little, and it was a relief to bury his face in his own bed and let sleep finally claim him.

When he woke, there would be so much more work to do.

PLANET RANQUIL, PRIMINAE CONTROLLED SPACE

ADMIRAL RAEL TANNER looked over the command and control room that served as a strategic center for the Colony worlds, eyes searching for something he knew should be there yet could not find.

“Dispatch the
Posdan
and the
Nept
to investigate the signals we detected near the Simanth colony,” he ordered, not looking up. “There have been a few too many hits there for it to be background interference.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

Since the last move against Ranquil, there had been a second détente with the Drasin, as apparently the aliens had backed off to reassess conditions once more. He wasn’t sure why, given the reports they had, but he would take what he could get.

That didn’t mean they’d entirely vanished this time, however.

Rael wondered if the enemy was attempting to spread his forces thin, showing themselves at the edge of Colonial space in order to draw off ships. It was possible, but with the Forge
in full production now, he had ships literally charging into space in numbers he could barely utilize. Not that it would matter if the
Odyssey
’s reports were confirmed, though he was still attempting to put together a stealth squadron for that mission.

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