tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 79

Three Square Meals Ch. 79

byTefler©

Jade stepped out of the grav-tube then jogged down the ramp into the Combat Bridge in a smooth loping run, greeting the girls with a warm grin.

"Welcome back, stranger," Irillith said to her with a smile.

The Nymph trailed her green fingers down the Maliri girl's arm as she breezed past and took her place at the Pilot's Station.

"Hi!" Faye said with a bright smile. "Do you want to take over as Pilot?"

"Yes, please," Jade replied, taking a firm grip on the Invictus' flight controls. A quick glance at the Tactical Map revealed that they were racing back into the brutal battle, now that the Raptor and the Valkyrie were safely aboard. She glanced at the brunette to her right and asked, "What's the plan, Commander?"

Calara was staring intently at the holographic depiction of the ongoing conflict, her brow furrowed in concentration. Her brown eyes flicked over to meet Jade's emerald gaze. "The Drakkar still have three black-armoured battleships and another eleven similarly-equipped cruisers. We'll eliminate them to take the pressure off the Ashanath."

Jade studied the Tactical Map with her sharp emerald eyes, then nodded as she decided on their flightpath. Her hand brushed over the console and their route and target were highlighted on the map. "We'll take out that group of four cruisers first, they're on our way to the closest battleship."

"Excellent, thank you," the Latina replied, but she sounded distracted. Her focus was on the steady stream of telepathic orders she was passing to Alyssa, who was relaying them to the Ashanath fleet via the telepathic command web. Calara glanced at Faye, who was standing patiently beside her Tactical Station and continued, "I've got my hands full coordinating the Ashanath - their forces are in complete disarray. Can you assign more avatars to the Invictus' weapons?"

Faye nodded, smiling helpfully at the brunette. "Of course! Which batteries would you like me to take over for you?"

"All of them," Calara replied, bringing up the security panel listing weapon access rights. Her fingers danced down the list, swiping over each in turn: Gauss Cannons, Heavy Cannons, Nova Lances, Singularity Drivers, all adding to the Pulse Cannons and Beam Lasers that Faye already had permission to fire. "There, you have full access. Do you think you can handle them all?"

"I won't be anywhere near as effective as you, but I'll do my best!" Faye squeaked, shocked at the amount of trust the brunette was placing in her. She smiled as she added, "I spent dozens of hours reviewing the weapon test in the Maliri asteroid belt, just in case you might need my help someday."

Calara smiled at the purple girl, knowing how dedicated she was to improving her effectiveness. "I thought you might've done. Please take care not to hit any Ashanath!"

"I promise I'll be extremely careful!" Faye said earnestly. She allocated five of her avatars to the weapon controls, then changed her mind and assigned all of them, splitting their responsibilities between port and starboard gun control where possible. Fluttering over to Jade, she added, "Would you like me to fire the Singularity Drivers for you, too?"

Jade smiled at her and replied, "That would be great, actually. It means I can pay more attention to avoiding incoming fire."

"Hey everyone," Dana called out in a subdued greeting, as she stepped out of the emergency grav-tube's blue anti-gravity field.

The girls smiled or waved at her as she limped down the ramp into the Combat Bridge.

"Are you alright?" Tashana asked, leaping from her chair and striding over to offer the redhead a helping hand. "You're covered in blood!"

Dana frowned and waved her away, then realised the Maliri girl was just worried about her. She gave her an apologetic smile and gratefully accepted her assistance, putting an arm around Tashana's shoulder and hobbling over to the Engineering Station, where she slumped in the chair. She laughed as she admitted, "I might feel knackered now, but I can't wait until tomorrow morning. I'll be on top of the world!"

"What do you mean?" Tashana asked, before suddenly squatting down next to the redhead when she spotted the ragged gouge in her armoured thigh. She looked at Dana in alarm and gasped, "You should be in medical!"

Dana shook her head, then smiled at the Maliri girl, holding her hand as she replied, "John already patched up my leg, I'm just feeling a bit wasted. He's healed me before but I had a full night's rest to sleep it off last time."

Tashana nodded, then gave the tired Terran girl a relieved smile before returning to her own seat.

"One minute until we're in range of those cruisers," Jade said to Faye, watching the Invictus' long fire arcs draw closer to the nearest Drakkar on the Tactical Map.

"Save the Nova Lances for the first battleship," Calara murmured, while closely watching a group of Ashanath cruisers as they executed her orders.

The four silver discs fired a salvo of red laser beams at a Drakkar battleship, then used their tractor beams to slingshot themselves behind the wrecks littering the battlefield. They neatly dodged the answering fire by using the derelicts as cover, the Drakkar's purple beams slashing harmlessly into the battered hull of a crippled black-armoured Drakkar capital ship. This particular vessel had been one of Vekrok's personal retinue, until Calara had torn it apart with Heavy Cannon barrages.

"One minute, twenty seconds until we're in range," Jade corrected herself, smiling at the purple sprite.

***

As the inner airlock doors opened up, Sakura shouldered her rifle before drawing her twin ninjato. She smiled at the comforting weight of the grips in her hands, but her smile faded as she remembered exactly why they felt so familiar. After letting out a sad sigh, she glanced at the perfect replicas of her parents' faces that were etched on each of the pommels, reminding herself of the righteousness of her cause. Defending the weak against the abuses of the powerful had always been her primary motivation and she wasn't about to falter when the Ashanath urgently needed her protection.

Closing her eyes for a second, Sakura felt a sudden rush as she enabled her psychic speed, then darted out of the airlock and sprinted into the corridor beyond. She felt sharp, focused, and alert, running lightly on her feet as she rapidly closed on the Drakkar forces. They appeared as red dots on her overlay map, spreading out like some kind of insidious virus to infect the body of their host.

Travelling at such blistering speed, it didn't take her long to reach the first of the Drakkar's victims. A grey-skinned Ashanath lay sprawled on the deck, his black eyes now lifeless, his mouth open in a scream of agony that had finally been silenced with his death. His small body had been stripped to the bone, the Drakkar even devouring his silver jumpsuit in its haste to consume him.

The sounds of fighting reached Sakura's ears and she sprinted faster, knowing that every second she delayed meant more deaths she could have prevented. Running at full tilt down the corridor, she prepared her body for a quick change of direction. The map showed her that the closest predators were in the next room to her left and when she'd nearly reached the open door, she raised her right arm and activated her Paragon suit's anti-grav stabiliser. The focused gravity field helped slow her speed enough to let her safely make the sharp turn and she raced inside, blades held at the ready.

Unfortunately, she was too late to save the Ashanath in there; the five Drakkar busy gorging themselves had already killed their victims. Sakura briefly considered leaving the slobbering monsters until later, focusing instead on saving more of the living. However, she concluded that these Drakkar could always move on elsewhere to attack more of the Ashanath crew, so it would be more efficient to just dispatch them now, rather than hunting them down later.

The first of the helmetless monsters seemed to be moving in slow motion as she charged, its bloody jaw opening wide to take another bite out of the Ashanath's mutilated torso. Sakura breezed past the brute, reversing the grip on her right ninjato and plunging it down through his lime-green cranium. The perfect edge of that sparkling white sword slid straight through its skull, skewering its brain, with her vicious twist afterwards severing arteries and instantly slaying the Drakkar in a gout of blue blood.

Sliding the blade free, she spun over to the next, neatly slicing through its sturdy neck with a backhanded swipe of her left sword. The results of the Drakkar autopsy were superimposed over each creature on her heads-up display and for the third Drakkar who was the furthest on the left, Sakura decided to test the accuracy of that data. She plunged both her swords into its back as it hunched over its victim, the three-foot blades aimed precisely at the centre of each of its two hearts. Driving the weapons through the Drakkar's torso proved surprisingly difficult, the black armour they were wearing turned out to be quite resilient. Still, it was no match for octa-shaped crystal Alyssium and she punctured both organs with perfectly placed thrusts.

Sakura placed her booted foot on its back and tugged at both weapons, tearing them free with the tortured squeal of metal on metal. She kicked off from the armoured alien's back, using that momentum to propel herself backwards and spin through the air towards the two remaining Drakkar. As she backflipped between them, she drove her blades through their temples, lobotomising the pair before skidding to a halt.

Viscous blue blood dripped from her blades, each droplet slowing as it left their razor-sharp points.

She paused to watch the first of the Drakkar topple forward in slow motion, its bulging eyes rolling upwards, just as the second Drakkar's head started to tumble from its neck. The final three all wore similar looks of stupefied disbelief as they pitched forwards, the entire group of five all slain in the space of as many seconds. Sakura smiled with satisfaction, then rushed away in pursuit of the next pack, eager to dispense justice to the rest of those malevolent beasts.

Her booted feet had already left the room by the time the blue blood droplets began to hit the floor.

***

Rachel jogged down the corridor after Alyssa, occasionally checking the overlay map for an update on the Drakkar's location. She trusted that the data the Ashanath were feeding them was accurate, otherwise they could end up blundering straight into an ambush.

*We'll be fine,* Alyssa said confidently, the blonde setting a quick pace as they ran after the invading Drakkar horde. *At this pace, we should make contact in fifteen seconds.*

They reached a crossroads with silver-panelled corridors stretching away in three new directions, the feral howls of rampaging Drakkar reaching their ears. Another quick glance at the overlay map indicated that their foes had headed right before spreading out, so the girls dashed into that corridor, weapons raised and at the ready. The lights were flickering in that section, cutting out every couple of seconds and plunging them into darkness, before springing to life again. The strobing effect set Rachel's nerves on edge and she was tense as they walked briskly down the passage.

The corridor turned left and the lights flickered again, just as Rachel caught her first glimpse of the nightmarish scene beyond. Several black-armoured Drakkar were crouched on the deck, chewing on small grey bodies in pools of dark-red blood. Beyond them, the rest of the pack could be heard braying and barking with the thrill of the hunt, as they chased after their fleeing Ashanath prey.

Alyssa swept into the corridor, her tone grim as she said, *Switch to thermal imaging.*

Rachel did so immediately, bathing the corridor in blue hues, with the Drakkar themselves highlighted in bright red.

*Start stripping their shields with your Justice Laser, eleven o'clock, low,* Alyssa ordered a moment later.

The brunette slowed her pace as she aimed her laser rifle at the torso of the closest Drakkar on the left, flicking the power level on her weapon to the second setting. She squeezed the trigger, sending a long stream of laser bolts into the squatting alien, her laser fire appearing bright red in her helmet's thermal imaging view. The heat indicator on her HUD began to creep up as she blasted its energy shield, circular waves rippling outwards from the point of impact in the centre of the beast's back.

It took several seconds of sustained fire before the shield finally winked out, enough time for the Drakkar to whirl around and reach for its brutal-looking gun with two hands. It roared at her in anger as it started to raise that broad-muzzled weapon, the laser bolts bouncing off its armoured carapace ineffectually.

Rachel had just started to lift the long barrel of her weapon to fire at its exposed head, her gun glowing orange with the heat venting off it, when she heard a familiar-sounding gunshot beside her.

"VrmPkaow," Alyssa's railgun purred, the hyper-accelerated twenty-millimetre slug hitting the Drakkar dead-centre in its hammer-shaped head.

The creature's scarlet face exploded in a gratuitous shower of warm red blood, spraying the walls behind it as it crashed over on its back. The red quickly shifted to blue in Rachel's heat sensitive thermal imaging, the blood cooling as soon as it hit the walls. The rest of the feeding monsters turned to look at the headless Drakkar in shock, before spotting the Terran girls and scrambling for their shields and weapons.

*Twelve o'clock. Use a higher power setting, we need to speed this up,* Alyssa said to her decisively.

Rachel moved her thumb to the power-selector switch, notching it up to three. She began to fire in short bursts of much brighter laser bolts as she lit up the next one on her left, flares of light arcing over its shield as the shots hit home with much greater strength. The heat levels spiked up alarmingly as she watched the Drakkar warrior frantically grab its gun. Its shield died with her final burst, the laser bolts sizzling through its ugly head and melting a big hole out the other side, leaving her safe to breathe a sigh of relief.

However, the barrel of her laser rifle was now shimmering in a bright crimson heat haze and the thermometer in her HUD was well into the danger area. Rachel knew it would take a couple of seconds before the heatsinks could finish cooling the weapon enough for her to shoot again, leaving her and Alyssa critically exposed to the rest of the shielded aliens.

She darted a concerned look to her right at the remaining two Drakkar and gasped to her squadmate, "Look out! My gun's overheating, I can't-"

Her words died on her lips and she blinked in surprise as the closest one on the right lifted off the ground with a startled yelp. It waved its four arms in the air as it tried to regain some sense of balance, before abruptly tipping forward as it sailed towards the second shocked alien. The Drakkar's armoured frame whistled through the air as its torso smashed into its podbrother's head, the levitating alien crying out in terror as it was used as a mallet to batter its companion. Again and again it crashed down, caving in the other alien's battlesuit with the thunderous impacts. When the second one was a bloody smear on the ground, the flying Drakkar was suddenly torn in half, spraying blood and ichor all over the corridor.

Rachel glanced at Alyssa in shock as the blonde cast aside her impromptu cudgel with a dismissive flick of her hand.

Alyssa gave her a playful wink before setting off after the rest of the pack. *Like I said, we'll be fine.*

***

John strode purposefully down the corridor, watching the rest of the Drakkar react to the sound of heavy bodies crashing to the ground behind them. Unlike the half-dozen helmetless warriors which he'd just caught feeding and neatly decapitated, the other twenty members of the horde were still fully armoured. They turned to engage him in slow motion, having no idea what they were facing and foolishly eager to fight as he advanced towards them. Their four-armed bodies were completely covered in glossy black battlesuits, with the integrated shielding providing total protection from the Ashanath's laser pistols.

The five-foot crystal Alyssium sword that John clenched in a two-handed grip was no feeble laser pistol.

His first upswept blow caught a still-turning Drakkar below its lower right arm, and he felt the tug on the blade as it bit deep into the black carapace. The psychically forged sword acted as a fulcrum for his herculean strength, channelling that titanic force as he carved through the monstrous alien. Shearing diagonally upwards through its torso, his blade tore free through its left shoulder in a massive fountain of gore.

From John's perspective, the thick blue blood fanned out in a languid azure arc, following the path of his gleaming blade as he rushed onwards to the next enemy. To the Drakkar, John was moving so fast that he swept through them in a blur, remorselessly striking down one warrior after another. Not knowing what had just hit it, the Drakkar stood there in dumb incomprehension as it began to slide apart along that neat line of incision, both hearts neatly cut in half.

The next Drakkar warrior was to John's left and had been grabbing at a wounded Ashanath with its lower hands, while removing its helmet with the upper set of arms in preparation for its first bite. John's sword whistled down, chopping through those clutching limbs, and drenching the terrified Grey in a deluge of blood. He drew the blade back to his left, then sliced through the dismembered warrior above the waist, neatly chopping him in half.

Some kind of glowing projectile flew past his shoulder, a purple contrail tracing it back to the barrel that had fired it. The rest of the Drakkar ahead of him had levelled vicious black rifles in his direction and were trying to track him with their shots as he darted from one side of the corridor to the other, cleaving warriors as he did so. The furious hail of glowing bullets intensified as several Drakkar sprayed the corridor on full-auto, reacting in terror as he systematically hacked the group apart.

A wild shot from a huge calibre rotary cannon managed to clip his left bicep as he ducked to one side, jarring him with the concussive impact. The round had a shocking amount of stopping power, blasting a divot out of his armour and drawing blood from his exposed flesh beneath. John reacted by impaling the next Drakkar through the chest with a double-handed thrust, the blade driving straight through its armour and out through its back. He lifted it off the ground effortlessly, its body shuddering as it was hit by rounds from its comrades, sprays of blue blood gouting out behind it.

Pausing for a split second, he levelled his sword at the ten warriors blazing away with their guns at him, aiming at the largest concentration of hostile warriors. Channelling his will through his blade, the impaled Drakkar was launched forwards on the crest of a telekinetic wave of force, sending the dying creature careening down the corridor. It knocked down most of the bulky aliens like bowling pins, with only two still left standing on either side.

"Damn, a split," he muttered to himself in irritation, while running full tilt towards the two horrified creatures.

John's sword whipped round in a lightning-fast curve, neatly decapitating the first, before he used his momentum to bring him around to the second. It raised its metal shield to try and ward him away, but it was unable to move quickly enough to stop him. He could see its look of terror through the red-tinted faceplate as he casually batted the reflective barrier aside, then drove his sword into its gut in an upward stroke. The blade sliced through its body and punched through its brain from below, flooding the Drakkar's helmet with the accompanying rush of blood.

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