PROLOGUE

 

 

 Morning Dawn was no longer the simple minded creature that had spent the first fifty years of her life after her birth wondering around various solar systems with the other young swars of her pod. 102 years ago, she bonded for the first time with another being and her world expanded on a geometric scale. Higher brain functions and emotions along with certain abilities had been opened to her.

In her 102 years of bonded life she had grown and been grafted into a corvette. She had over the years been bonded to six different beings that she called pilot, yet the other living beings dwelling inside her called her bonded partner captain.

Morning Dawn felt the searing pain as her skin was burned, peeled and blistered when many smaller multi color explosions dotted the ship’s surface, her flesh, while the larger and heavily armed Bortanis Jaston class destroyer bore down on her. Captain Figstrex, Morning Dawn’s commander, hoped that he and Morning Dawn could somehow outmaneuver his enemy and gain time to repair his Bortanis Narda class Corvette before it took too much more damage.  Both ships were hurtling through space, with the Morning Dawn’s precious cargo of experimental nanites; the prize for the victor.  Figstrex continued to watch his radar screen and saw that the two ships seemed to be pulling away from each other ever so slightly.  He gave a small flick of his tail in satisfaction.

Captain Figstrex had heard the rumors, read the reports, and even seen the tabloids but he dismissed them as faulty or just wrong. Many times, when Morning Dawn would in a spaceport taking on supplies and cargo, he and other commanders would meet aboard one another’s ship to talk, and dine. The crews were encouraged to mingle. It was one of these gathering over two solar years ago that he and the rest were told of the scandal that had shaken the royal caste.

There can be only one King and one Queen. One will be of royal blood and the other will be from any of the other castes. By an ancient decree the royal family can only have one offspring. Any other offspring born after the first heir were to be killed.

Apparently this decree was not enforced, if it had been then the civil war would not have ever come to be and the Bortanis Empire would still be whole.

“Captain, the engines are now complete and coming online. I’m just not sure how long they will last without the rear singularity projector,” said Cartoov the ship’s caretaker. She had more than a touch of concern in her voice as she spoke.  She knew that the destroyer was more powerful and their smaller corvette was moderately damaged, at this rate she was unsure if they could keep up with the repairs.  If only they could get to a more complete level of repair, they just might escape.

The captain swiveled his chair to face the being that had addressed him. “Thank you Cartoov.”  The captain looked intently into his ship’s caretaker deep purple eyes. Cartoov bowed low casting her eyes to the floor, as a sign of respect.  The cream-colored, short, silky fur on her head moved ever so gently in unison with her movement.  She felt his eyes on her while she was bowed.  She went back to her seat and twitched her tail back and forth in agitation.

The captain addressed the ship directly, “Morning Dawn, how are the repairs coming along?” he asked.

“Captain Figstrex, I have used a significant portion of my energy stores to effect and complete the growth of the new engines. To help in this endeavor I had to restrict many of my secondary systems down to their minimums, just to maintain our speed during the growth cycle. Repairs of all non-essentials were halted as a result.”

Cartoov spoke as she spun her chair around to face her console. “What about primary offensive weapons?” she asked the ship.

Morning Dawn answered her with more bad news. “Since the death of Jorbor and the destruction of the weapons hall, I have lost the use of all my offensive weapons. I still have my defensive weapons, which are currently at 67 percent. My nanites are currently working on bringing the rear singularity projector to operational status. Time estimate for completion is ten minutes.”

The captain swished his tail in frustration, accidentally hitting the base of his swivel chair causing a clinking sound when his poison tipped spine on the end hit the metal base of the command chair.  The captain felt hurt in both of his hearts and his facial expressions showed his feelings of loss. “Jorbor will be dearly missed. His clan was an old and noble one.  He was a knowledge keeper and a clan elder. He was also a dear friend,” Figstrex said to the bridge crew.

“Thank-you Morning Dawn, Motox, did you get a message out in time?” asked the captain turning to face his most junior officer on the bridge.

The young Bortanisian male tail’s was twitching as fast as his two hearts were beating, his head hung down not in respect but in shame. “Sir, that is unknown at this time. Our communications organs and their supporting hardware were the first to be targeted and destroyed.”

At that moment all the Bortanisians felt and heard the ship start to hum softly and gently as the new and larger engines started to come to life and add their thrust to the ship’s forward acceleration. Doovin quickly looked down at his console. Using a very rare talent he grazed his hand across the panel, communicating partially telepathically with the ship.  He requested data and in a few moments had his answers.  He read over the results and communicated the information to the captain. “Captain, we are currently moving away from the destroyer and will be out of her weapons range in a little more than two hours. That is unless they too have access to the growing matrix and can grow faster engines.”

“Thank you Doovin, but I doubt that they were able to get anything from the matrix for the past two years. Morning Dawn, how soon will you be able to bring up the hyperspace drives?” asked the captain as he spun back to face the view screen.

Morning Dawn responded with surprise in her voice. “Six hours sir, I would not recommend doing that; the destroyer, Swift Strike, would just follow us in. Then there is the amplification effect on weapons and their force.”

“Thank-you Morning Dawn, I do indeed know that and, I am counting on that.” said the captain cryptically.

Suddenly the ship lurched as it was hit by a large blast from the destroyer and both the captain and Morning Dawn screamed out in agony. Alarms were ringing and the people working at different stations across the ship were thrown about like discarded toys. Cartoov and Doovin, climbed back into their chairs. Cartoov immediately began working on quieting the alarms while Doovin made a damage report and dispatched repair crews and nanites that were left.

“Captain, we’re venting air, plasma, and fluids. I am not receiving reports from the engine room one a or b. I have sent the nanites to repair hull breaches on decks nine and ten. I have power fluctuations; we may lose power and gravity soon. I would suggest that all personnel put on their hard suits just in case the worst happens.”

The captain by now had regained some of his composure after the initial moment of pain and was dragging himself back into his chair. The Captain and the ship were linked together both physically and mentally. “Yes.  I want all personnel to don their hard suits.  I want us prepared. Doovin send someone to check engine coolant systems, I’m starting to get warm,” Captain Figstrex unlinked himself from the ship by removing the various cables which allowed him to be as one with the ship. For a moment he felt a sense of vertigo but before long he regained his own sense of equilibrium. Cartoov, knowing that the process could be physically challenging and disorientating, rushed over to help her captain.

She helped him stand upright and assisted him into his hard suit.  Her hearts were racing as she reached out and stroked his downy soft red fur with her claws. The others on the bridge paid the pair no attention. Now was the time, as there could not be another chance. “I just thought that you should know that I have loved you since the first day I reported to this ship,” she whispered into his ear.

Captain Figstrex purred softly and whispered back to her. “And I you, now go. If we can get away, I promise you a life together.” Cartoov smiled at him and the two looked briefly into each other’s eyes.  She lowered her eyes demurely and went back to her station to assist in the repairs. The Captain completed making the necessary cable connections between his suit and his body.  He then asked the ship. “What else was damaged in that last hit?”

“The primary and secondary power runs and distribution nets. Tertiary power run and distribution net will not take the strain of the load for long,” She answered aloud but continued in his head, “Took you long enough to see her love for you.

Shut-up ship.

With the connections between the suit and his body done, he sat back in his command chair as it’s automatically extended cables to connect with him right thru the suit and into his flesh.  “Will it hold out long enough for the primary power runs and the network to be repaired?” The captain had another bout of vertigo as his mind merged with that of the ship.

“Yes.”

“Repair the power runs and the network and then work on the breaches,” ordered the captain. “Motox, tell all personnel to report to the bridge. We need to save as much energy as we can. Once we verified all surviving crew members are here I want to shut down all non-essential sections of the ship that we can. We’ll give the engines all the power we have to get out of their firing range.”

Within seconds, Motox was on the ships internal communication system passing the captain’s orders throughout the ship. Minutes later, the bridge began to grow crowded as the remaining personnel gathered.

While he waited for all the personnel still alive to be assembled on the deck of the Bridge, he used the ship’s sensors as he would use his own eyes to look throughout the ship. He saw the dead bodies of his crew, some at their work stations, others just lying where they ended up. The captain looked over the gathered males, females and the neuters that had assembled on the bridge. The ship was repairing itself as rapidly as it could.  With each new repair begun and completed, the pain he felt within him subsided more and more. As captain, he had the duty and honor to bond and form a symbiotic relationship with his vessel.  Morning Dawn had engaged her damping circuits to keep the worst of the pain from reaching the captain. “Captain, my nanites have repaired the primary power run and the primary distribution network and have begun to repair the larger breaches first. We can have them sealed up in ten to fifteen minutes. With the strain on the power distribution lessened we will now be out of their firing range in one hour and fifteen minutes. The rear singularity projector is now up and ready.”

“That is good news Morning Dawn,” replied the captain.

The captain and his crew were now in a better tactical position now that the projector was operable.  The rear singularity was absorbing all the power from the incoming fire and morning dawn was using this same power to repair herself.  Morning Dawn had split the incoming power to recharge her stores and to make her repairs.

“Captain, I will soon be able to engage the hyperspace drives, what destination shall I chart?” the ship asked.

Captain Figstrex disconnected himself from the ship and walked to the star map chamber. There, with his fellow officers, he chose a small blue and green planet. It was circling a yellow star. The preliminary data told him that this small planet had the necessary components to sustain life. “Here, morning dawn!” he said touching the screen with one of the flexible metal claws on his gloved hand.

With his officer corps gathered he told them of his plan. There was no debate, he was the captain, and he knew the risks, he also knew the rewards.

The officers knew that without support from any other ship and with the destroyer still behind them it was their only and best chance to escape.  Or it could also spell their doom.  It was a calculated risk.  Either choice was better than being run down and finally obliterated by the destroyer.  The officers all nodded silently.  The crew walked back to their stations on the bridge while the captain seated himself in his command chair. The Command Staff initiated the process for the jump to hyperspace. On the signal from Captain Figstrex, Morning Dawn began to gradually decrease her speed. To help deceive the destroyer she vented plasma and air as if she had really suffered an engine failure. The ruse appeared to be working, as the destroyer stopped firing and maneuvered to initiate a boarding action with the Morning Dawn to seize her precious cargo.

The Captain and his crew had prepared for the worst as Morning Dawn initiated their entrance into hyperspace.  Each member of the crew had prepared a short message for their clans, should the ship be killed and later found. Once the messages were recorded, the crew strapped themselves into temporary crash seats which had been thermally bonded to the deck of the bridge as an emergency measure. Doothin was intently looking at the readouts from the rear sensors. “Captain, the Swift Strike is closing on us now,” he said, his claws clacking on the metal edge of the console, and his tail rapidly swishing back and forth in agitation.

“Okay Morning Dawn. You may begin.” said the Captain

Over 2000 kilometers away, and directly in front of the smaller ship, a small vortex of energy was forming. The vortex started to grow and widen as Morning Dawn was quickly approaching it in her bid for escape.

“Captain, Swift Strike must have cut secondary systems to the bare minimums. Look at the increase in her speed.”

With more energy for the engines to use, Swift Strike accelerated towards the vortex that the corvette had made in hopes of being pulled along into hyperspace, without having to use any its own energy to follow its prey. Morning Dawn entered the energy vortex followed by Swift Strike but just as the front of the Swift Strike entered the event horizon, the jump was aborted by Morning Dawn.

The energy used to create the vortex was immense.  Ordinarily, it would dissipate over time – but when Morning Down aborted her jump midway, the energy was released with catastrophic effect. The resulting display looked like a ring of light surrounding the destroyer.  It first flared and then contracted around the enemy ship. Arcs of power could be seen playing over the doomed vessel’s surface as the destroyer’s shield generators exploded.

Once the shields went down, the ring of energy and light made direct contact with the destroyer.

She no longer had shields, and her fore and aft singularities were never meant to handle that much raw power. The singularities were fried in an instant as they were forced to absorb too much energy all at once. The destroyer was more sliced than broke in two, and then exploded in a bright and brilliant fireball.

The death of the destroyer in that explosion had an unexpected affect; it reopened that end of that vortex for the jump to hyperspace sucking sections of the doomed ship into the tunnel. That release of energy raced through the jump tunnel and slammed into Morning Dawn. The energy of the explosion was magnified by the properties of the tunnel used to get into hyperspace.

The first to hit the Morning Dawn was the raw energy. Her aft sections were bathed in what could only be described as lightning. Morning Dawn changed her aspect while trying to lessen the damage to her aft section.

Debris flung from the doomed destroyer was next to slam into hull of the now badly-wounded Morning Dawn. The force of the impacts and the resulting internal explosions threw the corvette repeatedly into the sides of the swirling jump tunnel. The sides of the jump tunnel were substantially more than just multi-colored light, it had substance. Each collision did sever damage to the ship and destabilized the jump tunnel.

Morning Dawn started to tumble about in the tunnel. The ship was in agony, as was the captain. Inside his helmet he could see the list of damages displayed on the left side of his helmet’s face-plate. The right side of his face-plate showed a wireframe picture of the ship. Some sections were green, blue, or yellow, while others glowed red. The sections of the ship that held the engines were a dull, ominous black.

Internal communications were down. He could feel that the bridge of Morning Dawn had lost its gravity. Captain Figstrex knew without asking that Morning Dawn had once again cut in her damping circuits to lessen the pain, for if she had not he would be on the floor, raving in the pain he would have felt. Again using the ships sensors as his eyes and ears, he looked through the ship. When he made his way to the engine rooms he thought he had gone both blind and deaf, until the wall of the jump tunnel can into view. There, trailing just a few short meters behind was a large piece of his ship. The Captain disengaged himself from the sensors.

Mornings Dawn was now tumbling towards the exit vortex at a high rate of speed. The trailing aft section was doing the same. Once free of the Tunnel the Captain corrected for the tumble and brought the ship in line with the planet using just her thrusters.

The bridge still had air, so the captain opened his face-plate. The others did likewise. “We have lost our main engines and that part of the ship now trails behind us.  I hope to use this small moon to catch us in its gravity well, while we head for the planet. Cartoov, I want you and Doovin to get as many of our people into the shuttles as fast as you can. I want the shuttles to follow the ship in.”

“What about the cargo that was being carried on the shuttles?” asked Cartoov.

“Three of the shuttles have already been taken care of. The cargo has been stored in the medical bay for now,” said one of the others.

“Time is not on our side. Mornings Dawn can you hear me?”

There was a long slow pause. “Yes Captain, I have moved my nanites in closure to the core of the ship. Some of my nanites are on the free floating aft section. That section’s trajectory will have it collide with the dark side of that moon.

Doovin and the other personnel left for the shuttle bay, leaving Cartoov alone with the Captain. Cartoov made her way to her Captain. “When do you want us to abandon the ship?” she asked as the Captain was typing some commands into the keyboard built into the arms of his command chair.

The Captain looked into her eyes. “On my order and not before, now get the crew to the shuttles and start prepping and wait for my order to abandon ship. With any luck we will see each other once we are on the ground.”

Morning Dawn started to shake as she started to descend into the planet’s atmosphere. Cartoov reached out to her captain as he reached out for her. They muzzled for a short time. Their embrace was cut short when the ship was rocked by a small explosion. The ship and the captain again screamed in agony.

Captain Figstrex collapsed to his knees. Cartoov helped her captain back into his chair. Through his clenched teeth he told Cartoov to get to the shuttles as time was running out. Cartoov turned and fled the bridge for the safety of one of the shuttles.

Morning Dawn’s voice cut through the pain the captain was feeling. “I’m sorry captain, that last explosion took out my damping circuits. There is nothing I can do to help you. I cannot sever our bond, and you cannot steer me without my help.”

Then Morning Dawn was rocked by another large explosion and then by a series of smaller ones. The captain was writhing and wailing in pain. His right hand pressed the execute button as he fought through the agony of experiencing the ship’s damage as pain. A pain the likes of which he had never experienced before.

The crew ran through the ship’s corridors, they had to leap over wreckage, dodge arcing power feeds. Their mad scramble had them ducking white hot plasma leaks. They even stumbled over the bodies of their fallen shipmates.

Three times the escaping crew had to turn around and seek an alternate route to the shuttle bay. Corridors were clogged with wreckage as others were collapsed. Not every crew member made it from the bridge. Motox was crushed beneath a support beam. Two more died and several more were wounded as an explosion sent shrapnel flying through the corridor. Another was burned alive as a plasma line exploded directly beside him.

Power fluctuations that affected the gravity emitters and gave the light bars a strobe effect, that along with clouds of vapors and smoke. The groaning and shuddering of the ship only added to the horror of the crew.

Doovin was screaming over the intra-suit communication system, encouraging, cajoling, urging, and begging the rest to continue towards the shuttle bay.

Cartoov wept as she ran through the corridors of Morning Dawn. The tears glistened on her facial fur. She listened as Doovin pushed the crew ever towards the shuttle bay in one ear. She could hear the screams of pure agony coming from the Morning Dawn and the male she loved, her captain, in the other.

Doovin slammed in gloved palm onto the open button for the hatch to the shuttle bay and directed the survivors to the three closest shuttles. He understood that that splitting up the crew greatly increased their chances of survival on the planet with the emergency supplies stored on them.

Doovin waited at the hatch of the shuttle bay for as long as he could for Cartoov to appear. The crew ran, limped, shuffled and helped each other onto the shuttles. The first two shuttles were already sealed up. The hull of the ship groaned again.

Another explosion rocked the ship. The deck plating buckled cutting the power to half of the shuttle bay. Doovin ran flatout for the third shuttle in the line. The light bars of the shuttle bay flickered off, plunging the entire bay in total darkness. The light bars flared back on. Some of the light bars exploded, raining down pieces from above.

The buckling of the deck plating cut the power to the maglocks to the first two shuttles and the gravity emitters for that half of the bay. The shuttles slowly drifted off the deck and towards the ceiling. Fuel lines and coolant lines running to the shuttles were pulled taunt. The fuel lines were the first to snap. Floating green spheres of fuel started to spread out across the bay. The loss of power kept more from gushing out from the pumps.

The coolant lines also reached their breaking point. The lines snapped with an audible crack. A small blue haze enveloped one part of the bay as the deadly mix of chemicals sprayed out of the lines nearest the pumps.

It was a matter of when and not if, the fuel and the coolant combine the resultant explosion would be cataclysmic.

Doovin’s momentum kept him moving forward but due to the loss of gravity he was also moving up as he headed towards the shuttle, until he crossed into the field of the gravity emitter that was still working. He crashed back to the deck from about 30 feet. The hard suit threw off his balance and he landed awkwardly, breaking his right leg. Pain forced him to claw his way towards the remaining grounded shuttle. Other crew members having seen his fall rushed out of the shuttle and dragged him inside.

Cartoov slowed to a stop as she came to the hatch Doovin had waited at. Her heavy panting was causing the faceplate of her helmet to fog as the air system of her suit fought it. She reached up to shut off the channel that allowed her to listen to her captain and the ship. The captain was no longer screaming, he was shrieking. The pain he shared with the ship through his bond had driven him insane. “I’m sorry my love,” she said as the channel went silent.

She slapped the open button for the hatch and looked upon a scene of chaos. Two shuttles were bumping the ceiling. Floating green globs fuel and the unmistakable blue haze of coolant were spreading out. Pieces of the exploded light bars were hovering in the air. With the cries of the wounded still coming through her communication system she took a step back deeper into the corridor.

Cartoov shut the hatch and ran for the other hatch just down the corridor. She got there in less than ten seconds. She struck the open button with enough force that the button became stuck but the hatch opened. She scrambled for the nearest shuttle. It was the forth shuttle and it was still loaded with some of the precious cargo. Cartoov open its hatch and stepped in. she had just managed to seal the hatch manually when the rest of the gravity emitters failed in the bay. Hand over hand she pulled herself up to the cockpit. As she was struggling with the pilots harness, and doing an emergency startup, her world went bright white then black.

Captain Figstrex was struggling just to breathe, his pain was that immense. He thrashed at the chair’s armrest. His legs kicking and stomping the deck of the bridge, the captain’s tail was whipping wildly around behind him, the sounds of the tail striking everything within reach was muted by the suit. Morning Dawn and her captain felt the explosion of the fuel and the coolant in the shuttle bay. Somewhere from deep inside himself Captain Figstrex registered the death of the Cartoov that he had fallen in love with all these many years. He lurched forward out of his chair from the massive amount of pain from the shuttle bay explosion. The searing pain from the re-entry into a planet’s atmosphere wracked his body and mind. It was the emotional loss of Cartoov that caused him to stumble and fall forward, his head catching on the corner of the helmsmen’s console. The force and the momentum of the fall violently twisted the Captains neck, snapping it.

With the death of her Captain, Morning Dawn had moments before she would revert to her basic AI and her own unaugmented intelligence and plummeted to the planet with limited control. A moment was a long time for an AI that could do a thousand trillion computations in one second. Those moments were all she needed to set her plans in motion.

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