The urgency of the command was not lost on the Ensign, but he was nevertheless fractionally too late to prevent the first blast reverberating through the ship.
‘Shields, Ensign. Now!’ repeated the authoritative voice, but by then the command was superfluous. The fingers dancing over the keypad had already entered the required sequence, and the force field was activated.
‘Shields up, Captain,’ informed the Ensign.
Captain Jol Markson turned from the viewscreen to face his First Officer.
‘Hull breach on Deck 8, now sealed. Five casualties; two serious. We’ve lost climate control on decks 4 through 7, adjusting now to compensate.’
Harry Lamal was doing his best to remain composed. This was not a scenario that any of them had been trained for. Lamal was running his actions from the Asteriod Impact Response rule book. It seemed to be working. For now.
The ship rocked perceptibly as another weapons blast struck the force shield, and Markson turned again to the viewscreen, though his words remained directed at the First Officer who stood a few feet behind him.
‘Who the hell is firing at us?’
Lieutenant Karl Reeda at the Navigation/Tactical console was as bemused as the questioner.
‘Unidentified, Captain. Definitely a hostile intent, though. All three vessels concentrating their fire on us.’
Another two blasts shook the ship.
‘We can’t just stand here and take this, I don’t care who they are. Ensign – evasive manoeuvres. Karl, return fire.’
Fingers danced over the keypads and three bursts of energy leapt from the forward weapons array and struck home on the first of the unknown vessels. Lamal was not the only one surviving on his asteroid defence training.
‘They’ve all got shields up, sir.’
‘Give them all a few shots and then concentrate on the first.’
Markson watched the viewscreen image as the London spread fire across all three of the targets as they moved to keep her within range.
‘Carter, open a communications channel.’
Lieutenant Jen Carter keyed through a number of sequences but shook her head in vain.
‘No response, Captain.’
‘Maybe they don’t want to talk. I think they’re more concerned with blowing us out of the stars,’ offered the First Officer, as the battery of laser fire continued to rain down.
‘I can see that, Commander. I’d just like to know who the hell we’re dealing with.’
‘Well at this rate, we won’t be dealing with them for long. Shields are down to 36 percent.’
‘What about the enemy?’
‘Shields on the lead ship are weakening. The other two were unaffected.’
‘Carter?’ rapped Markson.
‘Still nothing, sir.’
‘Right. It’s obviously them or us.’ He turned to the Tactical station. ‘Karl, can you find a weak point in their shields?’
‘Then commence fire with the missiles.’ He looked at Lamal. ‘Maybe they’ll think again.’
‘Captain, at this rate it will be too late anyway. The other two have plenty of firepower left. We can’t match these odds.’
Markson switched his gaze back to the viewscreen to see the initial salvo of the London’s missiles striking the first ship, while all three continued to attack undeterred. The Bridge juddered and he sat down hard.
There wasn’t much of a decision to be made.
‘Ensign, prepare to go to sub-light.’ He turned to the First Officer again. ‘Much as I hate running, Harry…’
From the Tactical console beside him, Karl Reeda interrupted. ‘Captain, the lead ship is starting to move away.’
Markson watched as the unidentified vessel swung over to port and began a long arc which would take it away from the scene of the battle.
‘Its shields have collapsed,’ Lamal said blandly.
Markson sensed that they might yet gain the upper hand. ‘Karl, switch your fire to the second ship.’
The weapons officer redirected his targeting co-ordinates, and two last missiles burst from the London and streaked at impossibly high speed towards the retreating ship. The first struck the starboard side, ripping away a vast area of the hull. The second was fractionally later in arriving, and all eyes on the Bridge of the London were fixed on the viewscreen as it hit the target.
Instantaneously, the void between the vessels filled with intense light, streaming onto the Bridge and seemingly penetrating the hull in a millisecond.
The entire crew was immediately obliterated.
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