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FINALIST — Submission by Clay Skiles

Untitled   [ Part 2 of 2 ]

"Attention all vessels, this is Group Leader. We're closing in on the Sssla system; estimated time of arrival is nine minutes."

"Sir, we are in radar range," another pilot said. "Scanning sir… there are no Sakkra ships in the area."

Jared studied his radar and was happily able to confirm that Sssla was free of Sakkra ships. He did, however, notice something else unusual.

"Hey guys," he said over the radio, "I'm seeing some sort of subspace irregularity on the opposite side of the Sssla system."

"I see it too, Jared."

"We don't have time to worry about that right now," the Group Leader said. "We won't be going near that area, so there's no need to concern ourselves with it."

Jared knew he was right, but he couldn't help but fill a little bit uneasy.

"You're right sir," he said. "It's probably nothing."

Minutes later, the fleet entered the system and swept past the uninhabited outer planet. The star base would be in visual range within seconds. The fleet would then break off into attack.

Jared was now certain they would be successful, but he didn't expect them all to survive.

"Attention all ships, this is Group Leader. Break off into attack formation Alpha-Seven. Repeat: attack formation Alpha-Seven."

"Roger that, Group Leader." Jared answered.

"Approaching visual range in four…three…two…one. Star base now within visual range."

"Attack!"

Jared, flying farthest to the right, turned his ship sharply in that direction. He would attack the station from the right side while the ship to the far left would to the same on that side. The three middle ships would attack up the center. Initial reports estimated the opening volley would destroy about 50% of the station's shields.

Seconds later, Jared turned so sharply to the left that he almost blacked out. He was wide-awake though, and had a perfect view of the star base as the three middle ships descended upon it. Surprisingly, the star base fired no weapons at the ships, and they were able to launch their weapons at a very close range before finally breaking off.

Jared was now soaring towards the star base at an incredible speed. As he was readying his weapons for attack, he saw an incredible sight: as the missiles from the middle ships hit, several violent explosions rocked the station's hull.

"My God! Did you see that? Where are the shields?" a voice yelled over the radio.

There's no way that those weapons could cause that type of damage this soon, Jared thought to himself. Unless…

"That station has already taken substantial damage!" Jared said as he looked at his radar. "Shields are gone, and the hull is severely damaged…and most of the crew is already dead!"

A silence swept over the fleet for several seconds, until the Group Leader finally spoke.

"What could have caused this damage? I'm not seeing…"

Then, suddenly, a distress call echoed through the radio.

"I'm hit! I'm hit!" screamed the pilot on the left flank.

"From what? Dijah Four, who fired on you?" the Group Leader asked.

"My shields are down! I've got to…"

The pilot never finished his distress call. An explosion ripped through the space where his ship had once been. When the flames dissipated, Jared clinched his eyes and saw a small green ship dart by.

"Group Leader, I just saw an unidentified vessel near the explosion", Jared said.

"I don't see anything on my radar", the Group Leader said.

"Neither do I, but I definitely saw something."

"Jared, the radar shows no enemy ships in this sector."

"I saw it with my own eyes, damnit!"

Suddenly, another pilot's voice came over the radio. "Wait, I see it now."

"Me too," said a fourth pilot. "Moving to intercept."

"Roger that Dijah Two," Jared said. "Let's fry these guys."

Jared moved into position behind the three middle ships as they desperately tried to pursue the mysterious green ship without the benefit of radar. It was clear now that this ship had caused the damage to the Sakkra star base.

"Unidentified vessel is turning around," said the lead pilot. "I think I can…"

But that pilot, like the one before him, was unable to finish his sentence. Jared watched in horror as the alien vessel destroyed the ship instantly.

Witnessing the carnage firsthand, the other two ships tried to retreat. They were not successful.

This was all Jared needed. He believed in the Psolian cause, but he sure as hell wasn't ready to die for it.

"Well Jared ol' buddy, it's time to run away to fight another day," he said to himself.

Careful not to panic, Jared turned his ship around and sped off. As expected, the green ship followed in close pursuit. Jared had a big head start (not to mention a speedy ship) so he wasn't concerned about being caught from behind. As the stars whizzed by, the full extent of the catastrophe he had just escaped began to dawn upon him. How was he going to explain to his commanders that the four best pilots in the Psolian Empire had been systematically wiped out by some sort of ghost?

Jared's thoughts were soon broken when he realized that the unthinkable had happened: the green ship, instead of being far behind him, was rapidly gaining ground on him. He knew he couldn't outfight this mysterious ship, and now he had discovered that he couldn't retreat either. A wave of anxiety overcame him like an avalanche.

For the first time in his life, Jared O'Dwyer was scared. He desperately scrambled over his shipboard controls looking for the communications function. The dire circumstances had forced Jared into another first: his first distress call.

"Mayday, mayday. This is general distress call from Jared O'Dwyer of the Psolian ship Llano Estacado. I'm being pursued by an unidentified vessel bearing mark 2547.1429-0. Repeat: this is a general distress call…"

A large explosion rocked Jared's ship and, for a moment, he assumed he was dead.

He sat still for a very long time, fists clinched and eyes closed tightly. He finally pried his eyes open when he felt a drop of sweat run down his face. Cautiously and ever so slowly, he turned his head and gazed outside the cockpit window. There was no sign of the green ship. In fact, there was no sign of anything. The night sky was still and perfectly dark, and the only light he could see was the dim sparkle of stars billions of miles away.

Jared gazed down at his ship's controls. Much to his surprise, he had taken no damage, and everything on the Llano Estacado appeared to be operating within normal parameters. Confounded, Jared threw his hands up in the air. What caused the explosion? Why had he not taken any damage? And where did the green ship go?

Jared tried closing his eyes and replaying the incident in his mind, but this got him nowhere. The more he thought about it, the more he knew he was not sure what had just happened. His mind was under such stress, and it happened so fast, that he had trouble remembering what occurred. Could it be possible that he had imagined the explosion and the green ship? It seemed unlikely, but at this point Jared was willing to accept almost anything.

"Everything we see is just a dream within a dream." Jared said aloud to himself. He was paraphrasing the words of an ancient Earth poet called Poe. He let out a carefree laugh.

Poe's words made Jared realize that he would probaly never know exactly what had happened back there, what was real and what was an illusion. The logical thing to do, he reasoned, would be to establish communications with the High Command. The attack on the Sakkra system was an important part of their planned invasion, and it was imperative that the High Command knew that it had seemingly failed.

Jared again punched some buttons on the communication console of his ship. Before he could speak, however, a strange message flashed on his radar screen::

OUT OF RANGE.

Out of range? This was impossible. Jared began to wonder if he had taken some damage to his ship after all. He tried it again.

OUT OF RANGE.

It did not work the second time, nor the third time, nor even the fourth time. Jared was now convinced that his communications system had been damaged, but scan after scan revealed no damage.

Frustrated and exhausted, Jared leaned back in his chair.

"This has not been my day." Jared again said to himself as he laughed. He had always talked to himself in strange situations to keep his mind focused. "Out of range. Out of range! How can I be out of range? The Psolians have the best subspace communication technology in the galaxy! I mean, the only way I could be out of range is if I was on the other side of the galaxy..."

Jared's dry laughter stopped suddenly as he broke out into a cold sweat. He did a long range scan of his surroundings and the results confirmed his worst fears: he was in unfamaliar territory surrounded by stars he did not recognize. Jared thought back to the battle and the "subspace irregularity" he had warned the Group Leader about. If he had been able to examine it closer, he would have discovered that it was an unstable wormhole.

A wormhole that Jared had accidently entered, and a wormhole that had transported him across the galaxy, and then vanished.

Jared was alone, running out of fuel in a ship that could not be detected in an unknown, possibly hostile, part of the universe that was billions of miles away from his home. He had no food, no money, and no idea what to expect.

"This has not been my day."

 

[ THE END...   Back to the Beginning of the Story ]


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